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UF Faculty Receive Top USDA Awards For Research And Education

Robert Cousins, (352) 392-2133 ext. 222
Forrest Izuno, (561) 233-1538
Clayton McCoy, (941) 956-1151
Robert Schmidt, (352) 392-2558 ext. 206

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Four professors in the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences received Honor Awards from the United States Department of Agriculture during ceremonies in Washington, D.C., Monday (6-5).

The USDA’s highest recognition for outstanding contributions to agriculture and the consumer were presented to Robert Cousins, Forrest Izuno, Clayton McCoy and Robert Schmidt by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman during ceremonies at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center.

Cousins, who holds the Boston family chair of human nutrition, an eminent scholars chair, was honored for research in nutritional biochemistry, including the role of nutrient trace metals such as copper and zinc in human and animal biological systems. A recognized world authority on zinc metabolism and nutrition, Cousins has demonstrated the importance of this element in the human diet to protect against infection and stress.

Cousins, whose work has been supported by $4 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, is director of the UF’s Center for Nutritional Sciences.

Izuno, an agricultural and biological engineering professor specializing in water management at the UF’s Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, was honored for developing and implementing a series of best management practices to improve and protect water quality in the Florida Everglades. As a result, phosphorous loads in drainage water from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) have been reduced by an average of 50 percent during the past five years. Some farms have achieved phosphorous load reductions up to 80 percent.

Farming — mainly sugarcane, vegetables, rice and sod — in the 505,000-acre EAA generates more than one billion dollars a year in economic activity.

McCoy, a professor of entomology at the UF’s Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, was honored for developing genetically-selected microbial agents to control the Diaprepes weevil, one of the citrus industry’s most troublesome pests. The new bio-pesticides represent a major step forward in the development of environmentally compatible components for current citrus integrated pest management systems. These agents use microbes (nematodes and fungi) instead of chemical pesticides to kill damaging pests.

Because of McCoy’s research, registered nematode and fungal products are successful and available to commercial citrus growers. In 1998, an estimated 60,000 acres of commercial citrus received at least two applications of nematodes annually to control root weevil grubs.

Robert Schmidt, a graduate research professor in the microbiology and cell science department, was honored for biotechnology research that uses an algal gene to produce crops that utilize nitrogen fertilizer more efficiently, thereby saving fertilizer costs and protecting the environment.

Tiny alga plants — which form green scum on ponds — are the source of a unique gene that can be transferred to crop plants, boosting yields by as much as 30 percent.

Schmidt’s research is seen as a major advancement in the Green Revolution by increasing the efficiency of nitrogen assimilation in crop plants. Nitrogen fertilizer is the most costly and often limiting nutrient to agriculture in the U.S. and third world countries. By reducing the amount of fertilizer used on crops, Schmidt’s research also helps reduce groundwater contamination.