Skip to main content

UF/IFAS Faculty Receive Three Top USDA Awards

By:
Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A team of scientists and two faculty members from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will receive 1996 Honor Awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture during ceremonies in Washington, D.C. on June 11.

The Honor Awards, which are the federal agency’s highest recognition for outstanding contributions to agriculture and the consumer, will be presented to the UF/IFAS faculty by U.S. Secretary for Agriculture Dan Glickman and broadcast live via satellite at l:00 p.m.

Marjorie Hoy, Eminent Scholar and the Davies, Fischer and Eckes Professor of Biological Control, will be honored for outstanding research on biocontrol of pests and pioneering work developing and releasing the world’s first genetically altered predator mite using recombinant DNA methods.

Norman Nesheim, professor and extension pesticide information coordinator, will be honored for outstanding leadership in developing educational programs to protect agricultural workers and the environment from pesticides.

The third Honor Award will be presented to a team of UF/IFAS scientists for outstanding biotechnology research and development of the first lettuce cultivar with resistance to an environmentally compatible herbicide that eliminates the need for expensive mechanical weed removal.

The research team includes: Robert Ferl, professor and assistant director of the UF’s Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research; Daniel Cantliffe, chair of the UF/IFAS Department of Horticultural Sciences; Russell Nagata, associate professor at the UF/IFAS Everglades Agricultural Research and Education Center in Belle Glade; Joan Dusky associate professor at the Belle Glade Center; Thomas Bewick, associate professor in the horticultural sciences department, and Antonio Torres, a visiting scientist from Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria (EMBRAPA) in Brazil.

In research that will revolutionize weed control in lettuce and other crops, the UF/IFAS team of scientists developed the nation’s first lettuce variety that is completely resistant to a popular and effective herbicide, glyphosate. The new herbicide-resistant lettuce variety is expected to boost Florida lettuce production and literally save the state’s struggling lettuce industry from going out of business.

The genetically engineered lettuce variety will allow growers to control weeds with an environmentally friendly herbicide — saving growers up to $750 per acre now being spent to mechanically remove weeds from fields. The United States is the world’s largest lettuce producer but weed control has been the most serious obstacle to production. Until now, glyphosate could not be used to control weeds in this crop because the lettuce would be damaged or destroyed by the chemical.

Nesheim has developed an effective national extension education program to train employers and some 2 million farm workers on the new federal Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides. The complex standard requires agricultural employers to provide certain protections to employees who apply pesticides to crops and work in the fields where they have been applied.

To deliver the worker protection standard message, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA Extension Service asked Nesheim to develop an educational program to inform agricultural employers about the standard and the kinds of protections they must provide their employees. Nesheim, supported by more than $250,000 in USDA and EPA grants, was selected to lead the national extension education program because of Florida’s unique agricultural environment where more than 150,000 farm workers are needed to produce highly perishable fruit, vegetable and foliage crops.

Hoy developed highly effective integrated pest management programs (IPM) to control pests on almonds, grapes and walnuts in California, saving growers millions of dollars in pesticide costs. In Florida, she developed an effective method to control the troublesome citrus leafminer which found its way into Florida in 1992. She introduced a tiny parasitic wasp to control the leafminer, providing up to 99 percent control of the pest.

She recently became the world’s first scientist to field test a genetically altered arthropod (an invertebrate animal with segmented bodies and jointed limbs). She added genetic markers to a tiny predator mite to identify this beneficial mite and measure its effectiveness as a biocontrol agent against a troublesome spider mite (which is a major pest on strawberries and ornamentals).

In March 1996, after rearing more than 150 generations in the laboratory to assure safety, she released almost 2,000 transgenic predator mites at a secured area on the UF campus. The release, approved by the USDA, set an important legal precedent for future government regulation of biotechnology research.

-30-