New Director Appointed to Ames AgResearch and Education Center

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Matt Backus to Lead Internationally Renowned Center

GRAND JUNCTION, Tenn. – Matthew Backus has been named the new director of the Ames AgResearch and Education Center in Grand Junction, Tennessee, one of University of Tennessee AgResearch’s 10 Centers located across the state. Backus, who was appointed following the retirement of long-time director Rick Carlisle, has served as assistant director of Ames for almost two years and boasts over a decade of experience with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA).

With more than 18,400 acres across Fayette and Hardeman counties, Ames stands as a testament to the philanthropy of the Ames Foundation established by the will of Julia Colony Ames. The Foundation allows the land to be used for cutting-edge agricultural and natural resource research, now one of the most expansive facilities in the Mid-South. The Center is also home to an outdoor laboratory that provides hands-on learning for our next generations of foresters, in addition to the Margaret Finley Shackelford Orchard Complex Seed Orchard that produces locally adapted hardwood seedlings for use across the state. Ames is even recognized worldwide for hosting the National Championship for Field Trialing Bird Dogs each February and qualifying and amateur competitions throughout the year.

A Tennessee native with a Master of Science degree in animal science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Backus began his career at UTIA in 2012 managing Ames’ internationally renowned Angus herd. He then accepted a role in 2018 at the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Lewisburg where he oversaw the UT Beef Heifer Development Center. His responsibilities at Ames and the Middle Tennessee Center included managing animal nutrition, reproduction and health in addition to research initiatives in coordination with faculty from the UT Department of Animal Science and the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hongwei Xin, dean of UT AgResearch, says that Backus has exceptional skills and knowledge resulting from his long career in agriculture. “His familiarity with and impact on Ames are well known, as is his passion for furthering the mission of AgResearch across the state. I look forward to seeing how Ames continues to develop under Matt’s direction in coming years.”

In February of 2024, Backus co-hosted the 125th National Championship for Field Trialing Bird Dogs along with former director Rick Carlisle. In addition to overseeing the annual competition, Backus’ new role will require him to supervise the many row crop, forestry and wildlife programs at Ames along with the day-to-day operations of the Center.

“I am honored to be able to assume the role of director of Ames,” says Backus. “Serving as director requires a broad knowledge of all facets of agriculture and natural resources, but it is equally essential to have a mindset of leadership and service to the community. During my time as assistant director, I had the privilege to learn from Rick Carlisle, and I am excited to step into this role to further UTIA’s impact.”

Backus is active in the local agricultural community as a member of the Tennessee Cattleman’s Association, a member of the Fayette County Livestock Association and as a Tennessee Master Beef Producer. He is also certified in Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Animal Handling, a required oversight by federal regulations for most institutions that use animals in research, teaching and testing to ensure animal health and well-being. In addition to his agricultural involvement, Backus is a Tennessee Certified Burn Manager and sits on the board of the National Field Trial Champion Association as secretary and treasurer.

Backus officially began as director on April 1. For more information on the Ames AgResearch and Education Center, visit

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is comprised of the Herbert College of Agriculture, UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch and UT Extension. Through its land-grant mission of teaching, research and outreach, the Institute touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. to Tennesseans and beyond.

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