NIFA awards KSU with $1M for research

The funds will be used in research at Kansas State University to protect food from pests and diseases

Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kans., has received more than $1 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to continue work that protects food from a variety of pests and diseases.

NIFA’s vote of confidence comes in the form of $539,983 to support the Great Plains Diagnostic Network (GPDN), and $499,999 for research being conducted in Manhattan to eventually eliminate the use of methyl bromide in fumigants that control insects in wheat and rice.

The university has been the lead institution for GPDN since it was formed in 2002. It is one of five regional laboratories in the National Plant Diagnostic Network, which detects and reports pathogens that cause plant diseases of national interest, particularly those that may represent a biosecurity risk. The network of laboratories ensures that land-grant universities across the country are alerted quickly of possible plant-disease outbreaks and are equipped to respond rapidly.

University researchers are also important contributors in the country’s effort to eliminate the use of methyl bromide, which is safe in food but in 1989 was listed in the Montreal Protocol as one of several substances that should be phased out over time because of its potential to damage the ozone layer.

Methyl bromide has been used for decades to control soil-borne and post-harvest pests and diseases.

Kun Yan Zhu, professor in the Department of Entomology at K-State, said the NIFA grant marks the fourth time since 2006 that the university has received a grant to work on alternatives to using methyl bromide. The awards total more than $2 million.

“The long-term goal of this project is to develop and implement systems-based, integrated pest-management programs that replace methyl bromide as a structural treatment for food facilities, such as mills, processing plants and warehouses,” Zhu said.

Insects that feed on grain can infest flour and rice mills, food processing plants, food storage warehouses, distribution centers for consumer products, and even retail stores. While much progress has already been made to find alternatives, Zhu said there is more work to be done to meet the numerous needs.

Zhu and colleague Ronaldo Maghirang, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering, are working on this project with scientists at the Center for Grain and Animal Health Research at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Manhattan, as well as a researcher at Oklahoma State University.

Kansas State University’s awards are part of $9.4 million that NIFA awarded recently for more effective pest management. Since 2014, NIFA has awarded $64.5 million toward these efforts.