The University of Wisconsin’s Dean of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences in Madison takes over Nov. 9th as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s deputy undersecretary for research, education and economics.

Molly Jahn, Wisconsin’s first woman dean of agriculture, will head the three units in the USDA that provide research and service on issues related to food and agriculture.

Reporting to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and USDA Undersecretary Rajiv Shah, she will help guide the agency’s efforts to ensure a safe, healthy, abundant and affordable food supply for the nation and the world.

“I am humbled and deeply honored to be asked to serve in this capacity, which I consider a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of the conversation about our national priorities relating to agriculture, food, nutrition, energy and the environment, ” Jahn said in a press release.

Jahn will provide leadership for the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The largest of those units, the ARS, funds approximately $1.1 billion in research projects annually. Some 2,100 scientists and 8,000 employees work at more than 100 ARS research facilities around the nation.

Three ARS units reside on UW-Madison’s campus:  the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, the Cereal Crops Research Unit and the Vegetable Crops Research Unit. The Wisconsin faculty includes 20 USDA scientists, who share facilities with campus scientists and provide training opportunities for UW-Madison graduate students.

“The USDA network represents one of the most outstanding resources in the world on issues related to food and agriculture,” says Jahn. “I am fully committed to help bring that expertise to bear on the important challenges facing our nation’s food systems.”

Jahn notes that the USDA impacts hundreds of millions of lives through administration of food aid and education programs, as well as through agricultural research and extension. “The agency has a tremendously important role to play in securing a safe, nutritious, abundant food supply for our nation and the world. My primary role will be to ensure that those programs are informed by timely, relevant research that helps us advance those goals.”

Jahn has served as dean since August 2006.  Her tenure has included several major landmarks for the college, including winning a $130 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to establish the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center on campus. Since her arrival, extramural research funding at the college has increased by 48 percent.

As dean, she led several construction projects and hired more than 70 professors, about one-fourth of Wisconsin’s Ag and Life Sciences faculty.

As dean, Jahn gained “firsthand knowledge of how the organization and structure of the USDA research missions affect research in the state experiment stations,” says Bill Tracy, chair of the UW-Madison agronomy department. “Molly will bring the background of a successful researcher, plant breeder and administrator, and I think she will have a very large role in determining the future direction of U.S. agricultural research.”

As a professor of plant breeding and genetics and plant biology at Cornell University from 1991-2006, she bred vegetable varieties used around the world and identified genes responsible for important crop traits.

Jahn earned her bachelor’s degree in 1980 from Swarthmore College. She holds graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University.