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IRREC Graduate student garners presitigious Yara Scholarship to study citrus production

Graduate student Dinesh Phuyal recently garnered a prestigious Yara North American Crop Innovation Scholarship. The award is Phuyal’s fourth academic honor this year for his studies to improve Florida’s prized grapefruit crop’s tree size, fruit yield and fruit quality. Phuyal studies higher density plantings and enhanced nutrition. Yara Corporation manufactures and distributes crop nutrition products worldwide.

In addition to the international Yara award, Phuyal was presented with three travel scholarships, two of which funded his July attendance at the American Society of Horticultural Sciences meeting held in Las Vegas, Nevada. A fourth award from Center for Stress Resilient Agriculture, based at the University of Florida in Gainesville, took him to an innovative 5-day course, “Linking Root Architecture to Function,” held in Orlando, Florida, this August.

Phuyal’s studies are under the direction of Rhuanito “Johnny” Ferrarezi, who leads citrus horticulture research at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC). Phuyal’s work takes place in research groves located at the center of the state’s celebrated grapefruit production region. The fruit is known to be the world’s highest quality grapefruit due to the climate and unique environment, with balmy saltwater breezes that rise from the Atlantic Ocean along Florida’s central east coast.

But today, the grapefruit industry is at one of its lowest points in more than 100 years. A plant disease called huanglongbing, or HLB, has decreased production by more than 90%.
“My studies are applied field-based research which quickly helps growers to find an alternative solution for a devastating citrus greening disease,” said Phuyal.

Phuyal’s work is with nutritional trials to determine what nutrients grapefruit trees need to extend tree life under HLB. A second research objective is better fruit yield. Phuyal also works with soil moisture monitoring. For this task, he uses data loggers. Other work involves individual protective covers for young citrus trees to exclude the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that transfers that pathogen that carries HLB, and using a clay particle such as kaolin clay to protect trees from the psyllid, said Ferrarezi.

“Roots are a fundamental part of the plant, so it is crucial to understand the physiology of root architecture,” said Phuyal. “It is equally important in citrus because HLB affects trees above and below the ground.”

Phuyal said he is grateful for the grants and scholarships because he has had opportunities to meet scientists who know the most about plant root biology, a newer discipline in crop production.

“I enjoyed meeting research scientists who are on the forefront of root biology plant science this year in Orlando,” said Phuyal. “I met David Eissenstatt, with Pennsylvania State University, and other research professors who know how important crop root systems are in commercial agricultural.”

Eissenstatt is known as the world’s foremost plant root biology research professor, said Lorenzo Rossi, assistant professor of plant root biology at IRREC. Phuyal said the opportunity to interact with graduate students from different universities and to share research ideas and experiences was valuable to his education.

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