"ARS has had many specific accomplishments that have been critical to the continued vitality of American agriculture," says Edward B. Knipling, acting ARS administrator told reporters.
"But the agency's work as a whole is an essential part of the long research continuum that allows us to improve our stewardship of the environment, while making our food and agricultural products more affordable, safer and more abundant."
During the past 50 years, ARS has conducted research in every facet of agriculture, responding quickly to new problems as they arise, carrying out long-term research beyond the scope of commercial businesses, providing research support to USDA action and regulatory agencies, and helping to improve the quality of life for rural communities.
While ARS was officially created in 1953, the agency has deep roots that go back more than a century. When President Abraham Lincoln created USDA in 1862, the founding legislation called for the new department to acquire "useful information connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense."
Within four years of the inception of the Agricultural Research Service, a Division of Botany was created, soon followed by the Division of Microscopy and, in 1873, the Bureau of Animal Industry and other scientific units. Many of these were merged in 1953 to form the core of today's ARS.
The Agricultural Research Service's accomplishments during the past half century include development of the leading mosquito repellent, development of vaccines to protect chickens against economically devastating diseases, creation of a key equation to reduce soil erosion, and the discovery of two new forms of life – viroids and spiroplasmas.
Viroids are strands of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that can cause disease in plants and crops; spiroplasmas, which also are responsible for many plant diseases, are life forms with no cell wall and one of the smallest genomes of any living organism.
In addition, ARS scientists constructed the first gene maps of cattle, discovered that boron is an essential trace nutrient for humans, helped triple milk production per cow, and eliminated the screwworm from the United States and other countries.
Today, ARS is the largest agricultural science agency of its kind in the world, with more than 2,100 scientists conducting research at about 100 locations across the country and overseas.
For the modern ARS, the mission goes beyond improving agricultural production. ARS research also helps develop agricultural commodities into new biobased products such as biodiesel fuel made from soybeans that can power cars, buses, planes and heating plants. Such advances benefit the farmer, the consumer and the environment.
In celebration of its anniversary, ARS will host numerous special events over the coming year, including a recognition ceremony at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 11, a National Scientific Leadership Meeting in New Orleans in January 2004, and open houses and field days at its various locations.