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USDA Awards Grant to Virginia Tech to Improve Soybean Production and Sustainability

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2011 – USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), today announced a grant to Virginia Tech to address global food security concerns though improved soybean production.

“Agriculture faces a serious challenge as it strives to produce food for a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050,” said Roger Beachy, NIFA director. “Today soybeans are the largest source of protein and the second largest source of vegetable oil in the world, so improving soybean production has important implications for food security.  NIFA is working to increase food production while minimizing losses from disease, harvest, transport and storage.”

NIFA awarded the $9.2 million grant to Dr. Brett Tyler and scientists at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The team will use new diagnostic tools and genetic information to identify genes that restrict the potential for pathogens to cause disease. These new disease management technologies are aimed at improving soybean yields. The team, which includes extension specialists, economists and biologists, will work with soybean farmers and consultants to ensure the new technologies meet their needs and measure potential economic value.

The research activities will focus specifically on oomycete pathogens of soybean including Phytophthora sojae -- a deadly, soilborne plant pathogen that causes root and stem rot in soybean. Soybean production in the United States totals approximately 3.3 billion bushels annually with a value of almost $32 billion.  However, damage to soybean crops caused by root and stem rot diseases cause an estimated $300 million in annual yield loss for U.S. farmers.

“Soybean is a very important crop for the United States,” Dr. Tyler said. “It is used in the foods that we eat, the oil that we cook with and in animal feed. Soybean oil is also used extensively in biodiesel production. The main goal of this project is to improve the sustainability of crop production by mitigating several major diseases. This will benefit small farmers as well as larger commercial producers, and will strengthen our nation’s food security system by keeping food prices down.”

Diseases caused by oomycete pathogens impact not only soybean but also a wide range of other plants important to agriculture, horticulture, forestry and natural ecosystems. These include potato, tomato, peppers, squash, cucumbers, grapes, most fruit and nut trees and many ornamental nursery plants. It is expected that many strategies the team develops to mitigate oomycete diseases of soybean can be applied to these and other plant species. Outcomes of this research may also lead to applications that impact animal and human diseases caused by similar fungi.

Education and outreach activities are key components of this project. A network of colleges and universities will provide opportunities for undergraduate students to contribute to the research. The project will also build on the popular Kids’ Tech University program sponsored by the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program, establishing a new Kids’ Tech University program at Bowling Green State University.

The grant was awarded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI’s global food security challenge area focuses on two intertwined issues: food availability and food accessibility. Adequate food availability implies that the population has a reliable source of food from domestic or international production. For adequate food accessibility, the population must have sufficient resources to purchase food for a nutritious diet. The long-term goal of this program is to increase global food availability through increased and sustainable food production with reduced losses.

AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.  More information is available at:


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