Hubert Hamer started at the Ministry of Agriculture over 40 years ago, rose through the ranks and is now leading part of the ministry’s efforts to tackle climate change and address food insecurity.
“I am extremely fortunate to have a large team of dedicated scientists, statisticians, economists and other professionals in the mission area who have dedicated their careers to research,” said Hamer, who is the acting deputy assistant secretary for research, education, and economics at USDA, as well as Acting Chief Scientist. “They are service-oriented and it is a pleasure to work alongside these dedicated public servants.
Hamer was also the first African-American administrator of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. “When I arrived in the organization, I didn’t see a lot of role models that look like me and we saw a lot of changes in agriculture where I could become the administrator of my organization,” he said. declared.
Government executive interviewed Hamer on September 30 about his two roles, the impact of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic on the agency’s work and more. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you give a brief overview of your government career?
Basically I grew up in agriculture. I was born on a small crop and livestock farm in northern Mississippi and majored in agriculture. I discovered USDA during an internship. So I was fortunate enough to work with the USDA [National Agricultural Statistics Service] as an intern and found it to be a great place to work with many career options. And after this internship, I was offered a full-time position. The agency really put a lot of emphasis on mobility, seeing different parts of the world, different parts of the country, and different types of farming, so I moved from western Tennessee to Louisiana, where I had the chance to work with new products that I had not experienced. in this region, working with crops like rice and sugar cane. So it was an interesting experience. I moved from there to the Midwest; worked in Springfield, Illinois for six and a half years — a lot of different farming, large-scale farming with a national focus.
We have our headquarters in Washington, DC, so I moved from Illinois to our headquarters because that’s where the promotion opportunities are and you have the chance to be a national leader, a national statistician. commodities, working on national programs … I had a chance to reflect, again, on my career goals and where I wanted to go in the organization and really thought that working in management would give me more leverage to make changes and contribute at a higher level. So, I looked for this path. I was fortunate to be selected for an executive leadership program. I had the good fortune to be a member of the Senate on the Senate Budget Committee, then to work in the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture as part of a professional development mission. So it was very rewarding for me, it allowed me to network, to think and to have the chance to meet people outside my normal walk within the agency. And that led me to my first managerial position as a deputy branch manager in our headquarters.
From there … I was chosen to be our state statistician [and] state director for the state of Missouri, in charge of the agricultural statistics program for the state. I had the good fortune to act as the spokesperson for statistics in Missouri, which was very rewarding. Again, selected for another executive leadership program and which again provided me with additional training and executive leadership experience before being selected to move to the Senior Executive Service at USDA. [National Agricultural Statistics Service], basically in charge of our operations in the east: 24 states, plus Puerto Rico, providing all the budget and staff and all, basically all of the tools and equipment needed to run our operations in the east.
From this position, I moved to the chairmanship of our agricultural statistics council … I went from this position to that of director of the statistics division in charge of the dissemination of more than 450 reports on an annual basis, containing information on crops, livestock, economics and environmental statistics. And then from there, I moved around a lot. I was selected as administrator of my agency, the most senior position within the agency. And what’s interesting is that when I got into the organization I didn’t see a lot of role models that look like me and we saw a lot of changes in agriculture where I could become the administrator of my organization. I am currently Acting Assistant Assistant Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics at USDA.
You are also the Interim Chief Scientist of the USDA. What are your roles and responsibilities with this?
I am responsible for the advancement of scientific knowledge related to agriculture … We accomplish this through our intramural and extramural scientific research programs. We deliver credible scientific research, economic data, statistical analysis and provide scientific advice through the four science agencies in the mission area and the Office of the Chief Scientist. These agencies are: the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the National Food and Agriculture Institute. I also mentioned the Office of the Chief Scientist, which provides scientific leadership and ensures that USDA-funded research meets the highest standards of intellectual rigor and scientific integrity.
How has climate change affected the efforts you lead in the USDA science portfolio?
It’s absolutely very impacted. And one of the things he has done is create an opportunity to use the department’s expertise in conservation science and research, as well as the passion and commitment of our farmers, ranchers and private forest owners to place the United States in a leadership position on climate-smart agriculture. solutions. Many USDA programs and research efforts support actions that enable producers and communities to better adapt and mitigate climate change,
We are looking for decision tools to support precision agriculture and production management; there is research to help optimize fertilizer use; animal and plant breeding, cutting-edge tools have been developed in this area; measure and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; and USDA is leveraging the latest technology to advance climate-smart solutions for our nation’s food. Through our USDA Climate Centers, we are investing in the ability to translate science and research into actionable information for farmers, ranchers and forest owners. As a secretary [Tom] Vilsack mentioned in his climate speech [on September 29,] USDA scientists provide practical and innovative tools that enable producers and communities to better adapt and mitigate climate change. Some other examples, [the National Agricultural Statistics Service] uses radar technology and satellite data to measure the impact of hurricanes and floods on potential losses in agricultural production, and the USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and to conserve and protect our natural resources.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected USDA research?
Well when you think of COVID-19 it really highlights the vulnerabilities in our country’s food system, from supply chain shortcomings and inefficiencies to an outdated business model. If you look at the food system, I mean, that includes all the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding people. It’s everything from growing food to harvesting, processing, transporting, marketing, consuming and disposing of food related items, so it’s a very complicated system. , and the pandemic has exposed opportunities for improvement. Consolidation raises some concerns. It’s a fairly rigid system. And this global pandemic has underscored, once again, the importance of science, innovation, and research and development as essential to ensuring a safe, secure and plentiful food supply.
Do you have current or upcoming projects that you are particularly passionate about or that seem particularly interesting to you?
USDA is committed to being a partner in building more resilient communities and ensuring that all Americans have access to safe, healthy and affordable food. Today, containing the pandemic, ensuring racial justice and fairness, responding to a growing crisis of hunger and nutrition insecurity and rebuilding the rural economy, and tackling the impacts of climate change are truly our mainstays. priorities. So USDA has always focused on delivering data, a data-driven science that helps shape policies that have a profound impact on all Americans and our nation’s food system.
How do you reconcile two main roles within the agency?
It is an impressive responsibility that requires strong commitment and curiosity, and I am extremely fortunate to have a large team of dedicated scientists, statisticians, economists and other professionals in the field of mission who have dedicated their careers to research. They are service oriented and it is a pleasure to work alongside these dedicated public servants. So, it’s a team effort to make these research priorities; no one works alone to accomplish this.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
As the recovery from COVID-19 continues, we must rebuild our food systems in ways that match resilience to future shocks, promote sustainability and leave no one behind. The United States has long been a leader in agricultural research and development to improve productivity and promote more efficient and climate-smart use of natural resources in agriculture. By leveraging science and innovation, we can expand the toolbox of farmers, foresters and other producers to strengthen the sustainability and resilience of our food systems. So we have a big load, but I think we’re up to the task here at USDA.