Celebrating the past accomplishments of the country's land-grant institutions in a campus visit last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said farming-and food-related research at Penn State is vital to the country's future.

Vilsack, a Democrat, served as the governor of Iowa before being tapped by President Barack Obama to lead USDA.

He toured the university's food science building and the creamery last Wednesday, then delivered an address commemorating the 150th anniversary of USDA and the land-grant system to an auditorium packed with students and faculty from Penn State's agricultural education programs.

"Increased investments in education and research ... allows us to make and produce and create goods and services that the rest of the world will want," Vilsack said.

The USDA has $30 million invested in 65 active projects at Penn State. While Vilsack said investment in agriculture-related research makes sense, with every $1 invested creating a $20 return, institutions such as Penn State need to do a better job of selling themselves to critics and those who want to make across-the-board cuts in government spending.

"We do a pretty poor job of marketing these great things that you're doing," Vilsack said. "(But) we're continuing to work really hard to convince Congress that this is a dollar well spent."

During his speech, Vilsack highlighted some of the important research he learned is being conducted at Penn State, such as a study of prebiotics that may help prevent diseases from infecting livestock more naturally than antibiotics, and a study of bacteria that can turn cellulose from plants into fuel.

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