Jim Simon, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Plant Biology, was presented with the Distinguished Service to New Jersey Agriculture Award for 2023 for outstanding research contributions to New Jersey’s farming industry by the New Jersey Farm Bureau (NJFB) at its 105th Annual Meeting held November 13-14.
This prestigious award is presented each year by NJFB, the state’s largest membership organization representing farmers and the wider agricultural community.
The citation reads:
“For your extraordinary success as a scholar in both plant research and teaching, we commend you for bringing these academic achievements into the Rutgers SEBS faculty and for the benefit of New Jersey’s agricultural community.
You now lead the Rutgers Center for Agriculture Food Ecosystems that will expand the reach of your vision and energy toward innovations in food systems throughout the world. Your individual achievements in plant breeding and natural products chemistry are matched by a passion to work with other scientists, extension agents and growers.
Congratulations for having such a productive career including new-use agriculture and other applications to profit New Jersey’s gifted produce growers. We look forward to your future success and are grateful you have chosen New Jersey to be your home location.”
Simon became the inaugural director of the Center for Agricultural Food Ecosystems (RUCAFE) at Rutgers Institute Food, Nutrition and Health in 2020.
Since coming to Rutgers in 2000, he’s led the university’s New Use Agriculture and Natural Plant Products Program, focusing on the development of new uses of traditional crops, new crop, aromatic and medicinal plant domestication, with a specialization in natural products such as those containing extractable chemicals for flavor, aroma and medicinal activity.
Simon has worked closely with New Jersey farmers for decades and among his most recent impactful research efforts is his work alongside Extension Specialist Andy Wyenandt using innovative and traditional plant breeding technologies to identify particular genes in basil that they later used to breed disease- and climate-resistant varieties. Certain varieties, including Rutgers Devotion DMR (downy mildew resistant), Rutgers Obsession DMR, and Rutgers Passion DMR, were each bred to withstand the deadly pathogen BDM (basil downy mildew).
Simon’s work and that of his fellow Rutgers plant geneticists in identifying genes for disease resistance in commercial basil, a high-profit crop that small family farmers depend on, was the subject of the recent award-winning film, Fields of Devotion. The 2023 winner of the ‘Best Climate Change Film’ in the NYC Film Festival and the ‘Best Short Documentary’ in the Garden State Film Festival, the film demonstrated the impact of Simon and Wyenandt’s research on the New Jersey basil farming industry.
Simon and Wyenandt were both recognized on November 15 with the Edison Patent Award in the Agriculture Category by the Research & Development Council of New Jersey.