The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced 21 grants totaling $7.6 million for research to help manage pests and beneficial species that affect agricultural crops. The funding is made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
 
“There continues to be a critical need to develop new ways to defend our crops against pests,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “NIFA investments will also help to develop better strategies to foster the beneficial insects and microbes that have potential to combat pests.”
 
AFRI is America’s flagship competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education, and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences. This is the first round of grants made under the Pests and Beneficial Species in Agricultural Production Systems area of the AFRI Foundational program. Funded projects support research to promote beneficial organisms associated with pests, as well as to better understand the fundamental mechanisms that inform interactions between plants, pests, or beneficial species. The research is expected to lead to innovative, environmentally-sound strategies to manage agricultural pests and beneficial species.
 
The recipients of fiscal year 2016 grants are:
 
University of California, Riverside, California, $450,000
USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Albany, California, $466,857
USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Albany, California, $25,000
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, $474,766
University of Georgia Research Foundation, Athens, Georgia, $25,000
University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, $149,814
University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, $474,825
University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, $474,742
USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Maryland, $470,675
University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, $474,679
Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Ithaca, New York, $474,071
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $474,650
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $382,032
The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $469,220
Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, $474,852
Gordon Research Conferences, West Kingston, Rhode Island, $10,000
Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, $450,000
Texas A&M ArgiLife Research, College Station, Texas, $474,852
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, $475,000
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, $18,000
Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, $474,850
 
These projects include a University of New Hampshire project to determine if pesticide seed treatments inadvertently protect weed seeds in the soil from being attacked by naturally occurring invertebrate and fungal species. The University of Georgia is assembling a multi-state team to understand causes of dieback in the Eastern white pine, one of the most valuable conifer species in eastern North America.
 
Among past projects, a University of Arizona researcher is seeking to better understand how the insect-killing nematode (a parasitic thread worm) benefits from symbiotic bacteria. This research may help develop tools to make nematodes more effective insect pest control agents. A Cornell University researcher is studying how encounters between insect pests and predatory insects dramatically lower the pests’ appetite for potatoes. The research may lead to new, combined approaches to manage pests.