Nine UC scientists honored by USDA

Nine University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources employees were honored for exemplary service and achievements by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman at the 57th Annual U.S. Department of Agriculture Honor Awards Ceremony on June 13 in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary's Annual Honor Awards are the most prestigious awards given by USDA. UC's honorees were among this year's 85 award winners. The awards recognized UC research on glassy-winged sharpshooter, biological insect control, methyl bromide alternatives, and postharvest handling of fruit.

UC Cooperative Extension Kern County viticulture advisor Jennifer Hashim, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor emeritus Donald Luvisi, and UC Riverside entomologists Nick Toscano and Matthew Blua received an award in the category “Maintaining and enhancing the nation's natural resources and environment.”

They share the award with their colleagues from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Agriculture Research Service, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Kern County Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M, and private industry “for participation in a cooperative multi-agency team resulting in the development and implementation of areawide pest management strategies against the glassy-winged sharpshooter in California.”

The glassy-winged sharpshooter very efficiently spreads the bacterium that causes Pierce's disease, which kills grapevines. The scientists have been working with growers in Tulare and Kern counties to reduce the number of sharpshooters that survive the winter in citrus orchards before moving into vineyards in the spring.

Trade expansion

Husein Ajwa, a UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist based at a USDA office in Salinas, was recognized for the category “Expanding economic and trade opportunities for United States agricultural producers.”

Ajwa received a group award with his colleagues from USDA Agricultural Research Service “for developing, demonstrating and promoting alternatives to methyl bromide soil fumigation that protect the environment and allow farmers to continue producing economical and high quality fruits and vegetables.”

Brian Federici, professor of entomology and entomologist at UC Riverside, received an award in the category “Promoting health by providing access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food.”

Federici received the award “for research on insect pathogens, especially Bt [Bacillus thuringiensis], that has led to a novel biocontrol product and has significantly enhanced understanding of microbial pest control agents.” Federici's research exploits Bt as an environmentally safe and effective method for controlling agricultural insect pests. Several significant discoveries during his career include explaining and manipulating the processes that make certain Bt strains more potent, engineering novel biocontrol agents, and discovering a new class of insect viruses.

Professors David Slaughter and Michael Delwiche, and UC Davis Professor Emeritus Paul Chen in UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering received an award as part of the Northeast Multistate Research Group Northeastern 179 “for increasing the efficiency, security, sustainability and profitability of the fruit and vegetable industry through applications of the technologies developed.”

Slaughter develops sensing equipment, including a device that detects mold in tomato juice and another that measures the sugar content of peaches and nectarines. Delwiche is developing biosensors to detect Salmonella in the irrigation water for alfalfa sprouts. Chen created a device that assesses fruit firmness so farmers can determine whether peaches and pears are ready to harvest without cutting open the fruit.

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