U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that Dr. Parag Chitnis will serve as acting director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) upon the departure of Dr. Scott Angle. Dr. Angle accepted a position as vice president of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“Dr. Chitnis brings more than 31 years of scientific research and experience to the Director’s office. He has been instrumental in providing steady leadership and support to NIFA during its transition to Kansas City last fall, in addition to playing a lead role on NIFA’s Project CAFÉ (Collaboratively Achieving Functional Excellence) initiative which aims to help NIFA maximize business operations to better serve its customers,” said Perdue. “We thank Dr. Angle for his many contributions to NIFA and service to USDA and U.S. Agriculture.”
Angle served as the NIFA director for 20 months, and in a letter written regarding his departure, he said when he took the oath of office to serve in this role, no one knew the path that lay ahead with “a new headquarters Kansas City, a government shutdown, the sad passing of some long-serving senior NIFA leaders, and the outbreak of a worldwide pandemic,” Angle said. “I’m so proud of the way NIFA not only persevered but progressed through those challenges.”
After undertaking a yearlong CAFÉ project, Angle said they are now looking toward the future and how to continue to grow and improve. “As a soil scientist, I see the transformation in familiar stages – early on we were in the losing capacity via erosion and leaching zone. But as we have begun to regain our composure - even mojo - our work is now flowing through a riparian zone, where what goes in exits in much better shape. Through an aggressive hiring strategy, we have on board a fresh, innovative, eager workforce to lead us to the fertile ground that is ahead,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, NIFA will introduce some bold new concepts that Angle said they hope will help new scientists find early funding success and strengthen NIFA’s support to smaller partner universities and minority-serving institutions. “Our aim is to ensure diversity among our research partners and create an encouraging atmosphere that will attract new scientists and keep them in the profession. Both are paramount not only to NIFA’s future, but to the future of higher education and the agriculture industry,” he said.
Angle said he’s leaving NIFA in Chitnis’ good hands. “As Parag Chitnis steps up to lead the agency as interim director, he brings remarkable experience and deep knowledge of the agency and the partners we serve. His creative spirit and constant optimism will keep the momentum building,” he said.
Dr. Chitnis was named associate director for programs earlier this year and leads implementation of NIFA’s approximately $1.7 billion research programs. He has served as deputy director for NIFA’s Institute of Food Production and Sustainability, which supports research and extension activities in plant, animal, and agricultural systems. Prior to joining NIFA in August 2014, he was a research administrator at the National Science Foundation (NSF) – Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, where he served as division director, deputy division director, and program director.
Prior to joining NSF, he was a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology at Iowa State University, and was an assistant professor in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University.
Chitnis has a B.S. in botany/plant breeding from the Konkan Agricultural University in India, an M.S. in genetics/biochemistry from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, and Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Los Angeles.