USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Beneficial Insect Research

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently 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,” says 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 the grants are:

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.

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.

More information on these projects is available on the NIFA website.

Related to this funding opportunity, NIFA is partnering with Ireland and Northern Ireland under the United States – Ireland Research and Development Partnership to support collaborative research on pests and beneficial species in agricultural production systems. This pilot partnership seeks to leverage fiscal, physical and intellectual resources to facilitate coordinated research that is mutually relevant in all three countries.