WASHINGTON (AP) _ Terry B. Kinney Jr., who recently retired as head of the Agriculture Department's main scientific research agency, on Wednesday was awarded France's highest honor for agricultural service.

The USDA said Kinney was honored as a commander of agricultural merit in a ceremony in Paris by Jacques Poly, director of France's Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique.

Officials said Kinney was recognized for ''fostering a cooperative working relationship between American and French agricultural researchers and promoting the exchange of scientific information.''

From 1980 until his recent retirement, Kinney managed the department's Agricutural Research Service, the largest diversified program of agricultural research in the world. The agency has 2,800 scientists and engineers at 127 locations in the United States and five overseas laboratories.

Kinney, 62, began his USDA career 25 years ago. He grew up on his family's poultry farm in Stoughton, Mass., near Boston, and holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts and a doctorate in genetics from the University of Minnesota.