WASHINGTON — The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (N.I.F.A.) was launched Oct. 8 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who gave a speech regarding the role of science and research at U.S.D.A. He outlined his vision for addressing some of the world's major challenges over the coming decades during a National Press Club event with John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology.

"The opportunity to truly transform a field of science happens, at best, once a generation," he said. "Right now, I am convinced, is U.S.D.A.'s opportunity to work with the Congress, other science agencies and with our partners in industry, academia and the non-profit sector to bring about transformative change."

Mr. Vilsack said the U.S. has new and powerful tools — biotechnology, nanotechnology and large-scale computer simulations — applicable to all types of agriculture.

N.I.F.A. will be U.S.D.A.’s extramural research enterprise. The president has tapped a preeminent plant scientist from the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis — Roger N. Beachy, winner of the Wolf Prize in Agriculture and a member of the National Academy of Sciences — to head up N.I.F.A.

Mr. Vilsack said he wants U.S.D.A. science to focus most of its resources to support: the ability to keep American agriculture competitive while ending world hunger; the ability to improve nutrition and end child obesity; efforts to radically improve food safety; securing America's energy future; and making the U.S. better stewards of its environment and natural resources.

"President Obama this spring pledged to invest more heavily in the nation's basic sciences, and to commit as much as 3% of America's G.D.P. to science," he added. "Agricultural science needs to be part of that strategic investment strategy."