July 23, 2019 | 73° F

Rutgers scientist receives $2.9 million grant to study pollinators

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez and Dimitri |

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $2.9 million in federal grants to study bees to a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences researcher.

School of Environmental and Biological Sciences researcher Cristi Palmer was awarded $2.9 million in federal grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for her research on bees and other pollinators.

Congressional staffer Anton Becker explained that the grants were part of a project called the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative, established by the Department of Agriculture. The funding was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

According to NIFA’s website, the initiative aims to “address key challenges of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems.”

Palmer’s research specifically will address “the impact of downy mildews and the declining health of pollinator populations, both of which threaten global food production,” Becker’s statement reads.

The grant spans five years, with the first two years funded at $2,849,975.

"(The project will) identify pollinator attractiveness of top-selling crops; fill specific regulatory data gaps for pollinator risk assessment of systemic insecticide residues within ornamental horticulture crops; compare current pest management practices with alternative strategies; provide guidance to growers and landscape managers with updated Best Management Practices; and develop outreach tools for multiple stakeholder audiences," according to the press release.

The second project titled “Identifying Knowledge Gaps and Novel Management Strategies for Downy Mildews Impacting Environmental Horticulture Crops” was awarded $50,000 by the government.

Environmental horticulture crops (EHCs) are one of the highest value-per-acre specialty crop industries in U.S. agriculture, according to Novack’s press release. EHCs generate $20.34 billion to the annual U.S. GDP and are versatile plants, able to grow in residential and commercial landscapes, interiorscapes, arboreta, parks, sports fields and recreational areas.

In the long run, the project is part of a bigger plan to reach the U.S. President’s goal of restoring the vitality of pollinators. President Barack Obama created the “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” in 2015.

“In the current environment, farmers face a variety of challenges that make it harder to produce the safe, affordable and nutritious food that Americans have come to rely on. And as we look at ways to overcome these barriers, you cannot overstate the importance of investing in research,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey's Sixth District.

“Rutgers University has a long history of supporting the Garden State’s agricultural production and through advances made in projects like these, we can continue to enjoy Jersey fresh blueberries for generations to come,” Pallone said.

These studies are part of a greater project called IR-4, which hopes to “facilitate regulatory approval of sustainable pest management technology for specialty crops and specialty uses to promote public well-being," according to Outlooks on Pest Management.

A press release by Sherrilynn Novack, IR-4’s public relations and communication manager, said IR-4 essentially exists to develop research data to support registration clearances for different tools that aid and support crops.

IR-4 partners with several different organizations to make agricultural advances possible, including the government, industry land grant universities and growers to develop data. IR-4’s focus is on products respecting human health and the environment.

As of Aug. 4, IR-4 has helped more than 50,000 registered crop uses, and about “80 percent of IR-4 research projects are conducted on reduced-risk chemistries and biologically based products that fit well into Integrated Pest Management (IPM) systems.”

IR-4 was established in 1963 with a $25,000 budget and two staff members, and has since grown into a major resource in U.S. agriculture.

Palmer, who is the principal investigator for the program, declined to comment.

Bushra Hasan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @Hasanabanana for more.

Bushra Hasan

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