UF/IFAS Faculty And Staff Receive Top USDA Honor Awards For Research And Education

Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Lena Ma qma@ifas.ufl.edu, 352-392-1951 ext. 208
Steve Olson smolson@ifas.ufl.edu, 850-875-7144
Andy King laking@ifas.ufl.edu, 352-392-0900
Ron Thomas rkt@ifas.ufl.edu, 352-392-3893
Roberto Ramire

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Eleven faculty and staff members with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences received U.S. Department of Agriculture Honor Awards during ceremonies Friday in Washington, D.C.

The USDA’s highest recognition for outstanding contributions to agriculture and the consumer were presented to Lena Ma, Joe Funderburk, Tim Momol, Steve Olson, Larry Treadaway, John Jackson, Andy King, Ashley Wood, Kathy Sohar, Ron Thomas and Roberto Ramirez. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman presented the awards at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center.

Lena Ma, a professor in the soil and water science department in Gainesville, was recognized for outstanding research on phytoremediation using the common brake fern to remove arsenic from contaminated soil. Published in the scientific journal Nature, her research showed that the Chinese Brake Fern (Pteris vittata) absorbs arsenic from the soil with an amazing efficiency — as much as 200 times higher in the fern than the concentrations in contaminated soils where the plant was growing.

She said the fern could become a star player in the phytoremediation industry, which uses plants to clean up toxic waste sites. Because the fern accumulates 90 percent of the arsenic in its fronds, it could be grown on contaminated sites, and then the fronds could be harvested for transfer to a hazardous waste facility. UF has received two patents for using the fern to clean up arsenic-contaminated soil and water.

Joseph Funderburk, a professor of entomology at UF’s North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy; Steve Olson, a professor of horticulture at the center, and Tim Momol, an associate professor of plant pathology at the center, were honored for their research on controlling a deadly plant virus.

During the past two decades, tomato spotted wilt virus has been spread around the world by tiny insects called thrips, causing millions of dollars in losses to a variety of vegetable, ornamental and agronomic crops. Until now, growers responded by spraying broad-spectrum pesticides to control thrips, but the chemicals do not prevent transmission of the virus.

To stop the insect and disease it spreads, the UF researchers developed a variety of new environmentally friendly strategies known as integrated pest management (IPM). These new cultural practices include natural insecticides, biocontrol agents or natural predators and a treatment that boosts the plant’s immune system against viruses and bacterial diseases.

Funderburk, Olson and Momol also are working with researchers in other nations to promote use of the IPM control measures around the world.

Faculty and staff who developed the Florida Automated Weather Network, or FAWN, were recognized for their contributions to agriculture and the consumer. The network, which also has received an award from the National Weather Association, provides 24-hour real-time weather data to growers across the state, helping protect the state’s $7 billion fruit, vegetable and horticultural industries from devastating freezes.

With the addition of 13 new monitoring stations during the past year, FAWN now covers the entire state with 33 stations linked to computers in Gainesville. Each solar-powered station collects data and transmits it to a UF computer every 15 minutes, said Larry Treadaway, who coordinates FAWN at UF’s Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.

Growers and others interested in weather data can access the system via telephone or the FAWN Web site. In addition to data, the system can give farmers reliable climate predictions three to six months in advance.

John Jackson, UF Lake County extension agent who works with Treadaway on the project, said FAWN provides growers with critical information on when it’s safe to turn off their irrigation systems used for freeze protection.

Andy King, FAWN Web site and database administrator, works with Treadaway and Jackson to convert research-based recommendations to computer-generated management tools. This provides FAWN users with valuable assistance when they make decisions about production, harvesting or marketing their crops or livestock.

Four UF staff members were recognized for their leadership in establishing RadioSource.net, a collaborative effort to promote the teaching, research and extension efforts of land- grant institutions. The globally accessible radio resource designed for the general public and radio stations offers consumer-oriented agricultural, life science and natural resource information in English and Spanish 24 hours daily.

Ashley Wood, director of IFAS Communication Services, organized the original project and is project leader for RadioSource.net. Kathy Sohar is the project coordinator at UF, which is the host site for the network. The UF RadioSource site team also includes Ron Thomas, coordinator of distance education, and Roberto Ramirez, coordinator of information technology.

Since its launch in 2000, RadioSource.net has enlarged its user database and currently serves more than 1,500 users monthly. The site also attracts a strong international user base from several continents.

The RadioSource.net portal site was started by UF and the University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, Mississippi State University and Texas A&M University. And it has been expanded to include the following institutions: Auburn University, University of Arkansas, University of California, Florida A&M University, Fort Valley State University, University of Illinois, Kansas State University, Louisiana State University, New Mexico State University, Ohio State University, University of Puerto Rico, Purdue University, North Carolina State University, South Dakota State University, University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

RadioSource.NET was launched with the help of a grant from USDA and the American Distance Education Consortium’s (ADEC) Agricultural Telecommunications Program.



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Posted: June 25, 2004

Category: UF/IFAS

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