Researcher receives USDA grant to study effects of pesticide treatments on weeds

A researcher with the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire in the USA has received a $474,679 grant to determine if pesticide seed treatments inadvertently protect weed seeds in the soil from being attacked by naturally occurring invertebrate and fungal species.

The work will look at crops grown from seeds that have been coated with a mixture of fungicides and insecticides. These pesticide seed treatments are intended to protect the crop from soil pathogens and insect pests. Some scientists are finding that these seed treatments, particularly the neonicotinoid insecticide component of the treatments, also are affecting other organisms that live in and around agricultural fields. Many of these soil microfauna are beneficial to agriculture.

UNH associate professor of agroecology experiment station researcher Richard Smith said: "A host of insects and microbes that live in and on the soil, perform beneficial services that that we often fail to appreciate, including suppressing weed populations. By attacking weed seeds in the soil, these beneficial organisms help to reduce the numbers of weeds in a crop field that then need to be controlled through other means, such as with tillage or herbicides," 

The grant funding the three-year project lead by Smith is one of 21 grants totaling $7.6 million for research to help manage pests and beneficial species that affect agricultural crops. The grant was made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), with funding made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. potential to combat pests."

UNH researchers will investigate the role pesticide seed treatments play in mediating weed population and community dynamics, identify likely mechanisms contributing to the impacts of such treatments on weeds and their natural enemies, and explore whether cover crops, coupled with additional integrated pest management tactics, can mitigate nontarget effects of pesticide seed treatments on weeds.

The research project will take place at the UNH Kingman Research Farm, a facility of the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, and a university research farm in Pennsylvania. The research project builds on Smith’s previous experiment station-funded research on cover crops. John Tooker, associate professor of entomology at Penn State, also is collaborating on the project.

AFRI is America’s flagship competitive grants programme 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.

This material is based upon work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the state of New Hampshire. This work also is supported byNIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative through grant 1012600.


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