Meet a scientist: Emi Kimura

While people often find themselves inspired by their childhood surroundings, sometimes what is lacking in that environment can be just as impactful.

That was the case for Emi Kimura, Ph.D., who grew up in Kyoto, Japan, an urban city a little larger than Dallas. Despite having never seen farming and knowing little about it, she remembers being enthralled by growing plants.

“Somehow in elementary school, first or second grade, I started to ask my parents to buy soil, tomato seeds, potatoes, flowers and vegetables; and I started planting them,” Kimura said. “By the time I was in third grade, I started to take photos of what I grew and record it; that was my beginning in science.”

Now as an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences in Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agronomist and the extension state peanut specialist, Kimura works to provide sustainable and economically sound agronomic practices to producers in the Texas Rolling Plains through collaborations with local, state and national producers.

From city to farm, with an ocean in between

Kimura never lost her passion for growing food in Japan, reading books on gardening and watching television programs about the topic.

“I was just so excited about growing food and that continued all the way through high school,” she said.

After high school, she planned to come to the United States to learn English, and when it came time to choose a college major, it was only natural that it related to growing food.

She originally started at Vincennes University for her English requirements, having to satisfy them first before starting her associate degree curriculum.

“I chose agricultural concentration as my major; that was my first agricultural major in the United States,” Kimura said. “I was only one of two girls in the classroom with a bunch of other farm kids.”

Most of, if not all of, her classmates grew up on farms and were familiar with farming, but for Kimura this was vastly different from growing tomatoes in pots, and she loved it.

“It was so much fun learning about agriculture, and it was a lot more than what I was familiar with,” Kimura said. “That got me more into plants than agriculture itself and growing large scale food production.”

One class and the professor particularly inspired her — a forage class.

“The professor would give us pots of grasses that would look basically the same, but for him it was different,” Kimura explained. “I was amazed that somebody could tell the difference between these thin-looking grasses by looking at the shape of the grass. At that point I knew that this was something that I wanted to learn more of.”

Kimura transferred to the University of Wyoming after finishing her associate degree, majoring in botany to learn more about plants. She then got her masters in forage science, remembering the excitement from her forage professor.

During her master’s program, Kimura that she got to have her first interaction with farmers when presenting her research to them.

“I think that was my first actual connection with farmers in the United States,” she said. “It was amazing that they, even though I have a strong accent, tried to understand me and they respected me, and I respected them, and we had a good connection.”

This positive interaction helped Kimura decide that she wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in forage science, eventually attending Washington State University and earning a degree in agronomy with a concentration in forage science.

A new field to explore

After finishing her educational journey in 2014, Kimura accepted a position as an extension agronomist for Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Vernon.

While her focus up to that point had been forage, Texas provided her with a new challenge: cotton.

“I had never done anything with cotton until I came to Texas, because we didn’t grow cotton in Indiana or Washington,” Kimura said. “But luckily, I got the position and I got to know all about cotton.”

Kimura says she is still learning about cotton today, working to figure out what she can do to help farmers make a better crop each year.

In her position, Kimura serves the Texas Rolling Plains area, a large region in north central Texas that is mainly used for agricultural ranchland and farmland. She researches different ways to grow crops like wheat and cotton.

Kimura in the field.

“I conduct variety trials for wheat and cotton and evaluate the variety performance, and I share the results with growers so that they can make a good decision knowing which variety may fit best on their farms and get a better yield,” Kimura said.

Part of her studies include testing new varieties of seeds not yet on the market to see if those products would benefit the region’s farmers.

Applied research is a major aspect of her role, such as testing how many seeds are optimal for the best yield without wasting, and all findings are shared with farmers to be utilized by them.

2018 brought a new position opportunity for Kimura: state peanut specialist. Currently, most peanuts grown in Texas are grown for consumption.

“I have a statewide appointment with the title, so I work collaboratively with other scientists to manage some trials in West, South, and Central Texas and the rolling plains area and do variety trials for peanuts so growers can know which varieties best to plant in each region,” Kimura said.

Kimura also works with the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service and county agents due to her proximity to Oklahoma. Together they host an annual Red River Crops Conference to bring together farmers from both states facing similar agricultural challenges and experts that can help provide solutions.

No matter the different places, people and plants she has encountered, Kimura has never lost the fascination with plants she had as a child. This love for her field is what she hopes students trying to choose their field of study keep in mind.

“You need to enjoy what you are doing so you can work hard, because I didn't force myself to do anything anytime. Of course, in my undergrad courses, I had some suffering. But after finishing undergrad, my master’s and Ph.D. process were all so much fun,” Kimura said. “Even after getting my job, I've been having so much fun. Most of your life you will be sitting in your office or doing your job for eight hours a day. You better enjoy the time. And I hope they can find the job that they enjoy.”


Cameron Castilaw is a communication specialist at the Texas Water Resources Institute. She works with the communications team to create social media content, write for TWRI’s various platforms and print projects, and find new ways to inform people of TWRI’s mission and programs.

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