GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A native of Rajapur, Nepal, Krishna Bhattarai came to the University of Florida for graduate school to continue his education in improving disease resistant crops. Though Bhattarai has been in the United States for less than a decade, his research on the Gerbera daisy and strong presence in local and academic communities has been noticed by his peers.
This year, Bhattarai, an environmental horticulture Ph.D. student, was named one of Greenhouse Product News’ (GPN) 40 horticultural industry professionals under the age of 40. Bhattarai was nominated by UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences colleagues as one of the top individuals helping to determine the future of the horticulture industry based on his contributions to UF and the community.
“This honor is a great source of encouragement for me to pursue my professional career in horticulture,” Bhattarai said. “I hope to continue serving the horticulture industry for many years to come.”
Typically, few graduate students are named to GPN’s 40 Under 40. Mostly industry professionals or young faculty receive the honor. This year, Bhattarai is one of two graduate students named to the 2018 class.
Bhattarai’s father served as the main source of inspiration for him to enter the horticulture field. Living in a developing city of Nepal, it was necessary for his middle-class family to grow their own vegetables. Produce was not easily available for purchase in grocery stores, and a family garden provided variety at a fraction of the cost.
“My dad is an excellent kitchen gardener,” Bhattarai said. “He grew crops and used a variety of techniques that were not commonly used by others with kitchen gardens. I used to make beds, sow seeds, water the plants and weed the garden along with him.”
After a field trip to a National Wheat Breeding Program in Nepal, a young Bhattarai learned about stem rust in wheat. This fungus attacks all parts of the wheat plant above ground so that ultimately there is no production from the plant. The program identified wheat breeding lines to address the disease and better feed the people of Nepal. This visit developed Bhattarai’s interest in plant breeding and genetics.
He went on to study plant breeding at Tribhuvan University in Nepal before earning a master’s in horticultural science from North Carolina State University. Currently, Bhattarai is a research assistant at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center under Zhanao Deng, a professor of ornamental plant breeding and genetics.
“Krishna is very generous in giving of his time to other graduate students, post-docs and faculty at the center,” Deng said. “He has been active in many areas of academia including research, Extension and teaching.”
As a Trellis Fellow, Bhattarai served on a project in Uganda this summer where he monitored and evaluated improvements to post-harvest and irrigation methods of tomatoes and mushrooms. He is working on two notable research projects in the horticulture community regarding disease resistence in Impatiens and Gerbera daisies. Deng said this work is important to the industry because it produces a better crop that reduces the impact of pesticides on the environment.
Bhattarai intends to stay in academia after his expected graduation date in fall 2019. He plans to continue his professional work as a plant breeder to improve crop and ornamental plant quality.
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.