FLORENCE — A research scientist with a background in agricultural engineering will lead one of Clemson University’s oldest off-campus sites into a new era.

Matt C. Smith, a former national program leader in sustainable agricultural systems for the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), has been appointed director of the Clemson University Pee Dee Research and Education Center.

His appointment is effective Oct. 16.

For the USDA-ARS, Smith was responsible for programs related to agricultural and industrial byproducts; soils; organic production; and local and regional food systems, among other areas.

He previously was research leader for the USDA-ARS in Beltsville, Md. There, he was responsible for management of the federal research laboratory with 31 employees, including 11 research scientists, two support scientists and three administrative staff, and an annual appropriated budget of more than $6 million.

He also has held teaching, research and public service and outreach positions at the University of Georgia.

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in biological and agricultural engineering from North Carolina State University and a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the University of Florida.

George Askew, Clemson University associate vice president for public service and agriculture, said Smith joins the research center at a critical and exciting time.

The center, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011, is undergoing a period of expansion, both programmatically and in terms of its facilities. Smith is a proven leader, Askew said.

“Dr. Smith’s appointment means the Pee Dee center can begin its next chapter with an experienced scientist and manager at its helm,” Askew said. “Such commodities are difficult to find in equal measure.”

One of the key developments at the center is the Advanced Plant Technology program. The important initiative will focus on improving the value of South Carolina’s agronomic crops to support the state’s $34 billion agribusiness industry. Varieties and production methods developed through this program can be applied statewide to enhance crop production and value.

The program will complement ongoing plant science research at the Pee Dee center, on the main Clemson campus and at Clemson’s Edisto and Coastal research centers in Blackville and Charleston, respectively.

This research will provide a bridge to 21st century agriculture using traditional plant breeding and molecular genetics to develop new crops and crop-based products.

Smith said he immediately was impressed by the strong support shown by the state and university for agriculture in general and for agricultural research and Extension programs in particular.

Smith said he will help the Pee Dee center generate new varieties and new crops that are adapted to the Pee Dee region and develop complementary management practices to maximize the crops’ potential while protecting the environment and conserving natural resources.

“Our ultimate goal will be to help ensure sustainable economic returns to the region’s producers, and a healthy environment and quality of life in South Carolina — and beyond,” Smith said.

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