Iowa State University’s Manjit Misra Named Director of USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Man with graying hair in red ISU shirt and black trousers standing in front of seed lab trays
Manjit K. Misra. Photo by Amy Vinchattle Photography. 

AMES, Iowa – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has named Manjit K. Misra as its new director.

USDA announced the appointment today. Misra will assume his new role on May 8, 2023, with a swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“Dr. Misra is an esteemed scientist and educator whose devotion to studying and sharing his knowledge of seeds with the world will benefit society and inspire generations to come,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I am confident he will bring strong leadership and expertise to USDA as we continue our work to invest in and grow initiatives that ensure the long-term viability of agriculture and food systems.”

As he takes on this national leadership position, Misra will retire from Iowa State University after a nearly 45-year career as a faculty member in agricultural and biosystems engineering and 32 years as director of the university’s Seed Science Center.

“NIFA’s role is to catalyze transformative discoveries, education and engagement so that we are able to address our most pressing agricultural challenges — food security, climate variability and change, water resources, sustainable bioenergy, childhood obesity prevention and food safety,” Misra said. “I am excited and, at the same time, humbled by the opportunity to take on these challenges at the national level and to bring the benefits of transformational research to all agriculture, all farmers and consumers.”

“Dr. Manjit Misra is a visionary who has dedicated his career toward the goal of seeding a food-secure future,” said Daniel J. Robison, holder of the endowed dean’s chair in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State. “USDA’s selection of Dr. Misra as its next NIFA director represents an incredible opportunity for Dr. Misra to make a difference nationally and is a testament to his unparalleled service and skills as a leader, researcher, educator and communicator. We will miss Manjit, but we look forward to working with him in this new role, for which he is uniquely qualified.”

Misra joined Iowa State in 1979 to initiate a seed extension program and in 1991, became director of the Seed Science Center. Since then, the SSC has grown from a campus unit that served local needs, to a globally recognized center of excellence with approximately 190 affiliated faculty, staff and graduate students conducting programs in 79 countries.

The center operates the largest, most comprehensive public seed laboratory in the world, testing samples from 300 seed species annually and for 350 pathogens. In 2001, the USDA designated the SSC as administrator of the National Seed Health System, charged with ensuring that seeds exported from the U.S. are disease-free. The center also houses the Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products, which Misra founded in 2003 to provide unbiased information on biosafety issues for genetically modified agricultural products.

As a researcher, Misra is the principal or co-investigator in numerous externally funded research projects, the author or co-author of 137 publications and an innovator with 10 technology patents.

As an educator, Misra has made a significant impact on supporting and mentoring future seed industry leaders. This includes his leadership to develop Iowa State’s Graduate Program in Seed Technology and Business, launched in 2007. Delivered globally via distance education, the program has had students from 21 states and 14 countries.

Misra is also known as a skilled communicator. His commitment to conveying the beauty of seeds and their importance in the fight against hunger to new audiences led to the development of the documentary film series “Seeds! Diversity of Wonder,” which has received numerous distinctions, including two prestigious Telly awards.

Misra chaired the USDA National Genetic Resources Advisory Council (NGRAC) from 2012-2017. He has also served on many local, national and international boards and committees, including the Steering Committee for the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) International Conference on Biotechnology and the Scientific Advisory Council of the American Seed Research Foundation.  

His awards for leadership include the Distinguished Service Award from the American Seed Trade Association, a certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the Global Agricultural Leadership Award from the Indian Council of Food and Agriculture, the Sukup Global Food Security award and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers’ AE50 Award for product innovation.  

Misra grew up near the Bay of Bengal in India, where he helped oversee rice and sugarcane harvesting on his family’s sharecrop operation. He received his bachelor’s degree in soil and water conservation engineering from Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, Bhubaneswar, India, and earned both a master’s degree in agricultural engineering and a doctorate in food and process engineering from the University of Missouri, Columbia.

An interim director for the Seed Science Center will be named soon, with a search to follow.   

About the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides leadership and funding for programs that advance agriculture-related sciences aimed at enhancing the food supply, natural resources and human sciences. The public agency was created by Congress through the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill).

About the Seed Science Center 

The Seed Science Center at Iowa State University is recognized as a global center of excellence in seed science, technology and systems. The center engages more than 190 faculty, affiliated faculty, staff and students in cutting edge research, education, training and global programs. It houses the Seed Laboratory, which has provided accurate, professional seed testing services to the seed industry for more than 100 years. SSC’s mission is to improve production, quality assurance, marketing, utilization and regulatory environment of seed through research, testing, teaching, outreach and international programs.

About the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University is one of the world’s leading institutions of agriculture, with more than 160 years of leadership in research, education and extension. The college has more than 300 tenured and tenure eligible faculty, 105 term faculty, 450 professional and scientific staff and 47 merit staff in 14 departments, eight of which are co-administered with another college.