The Roundup -

National Award Goes To MSU Scientist Fighting Weeds

 

February 28, 2018 | View PDF

Prashant Jha

A Montana State University scientist who is striving to overcome a widespread problem for U.S. farmers – herbicide-resistant weeds – has won a national award for his achievements so far.

Prashant Jha, an associate professor at the Southern Agricultural Research Center in the College of Agriculture and the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station, was named Outstanding Early Career Weed Scientist during the Weed Science Society of America's 2018 annual meeting in Arlington, Virginia. The society selects one recipient a year. The scientist must have earned a Ph.D. within the past 10 years.

"It's a great honor," said Jha, who earned his doctorate in December 2008 and came to MSU in 2010.

"I was extremely elated that he won," said Jason Norsworthy, a professor and Elms Farming Chair of Weed Science at the University of Arkansas.

Jha was Norsworthy's first doctoral student at Clemson University in South Carolina. Now stationed at MSU's SARC near Huntley, Jha was nominated for the early career award by Krishna Reddy, research leader of the USDA-ARS Crop Production Systems Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi. Four weed scientists who wrote letters of support were Norsworthy; Ken Kephart, superintendent of the SARC; Vipan Kumar, Jha's former graduate student and postdoctoral researcher at MSU and now assistant professor of weed science at Kansas State University; and Phil Stahlman, emeritus professor of weed science from KSU.

"Dr. Jha is becoming a recognized expert at the national, and perhaps international, level for his work with herbicide-resistant weeds," Kephart wrote. "He has become frequently approached by other weed scientists to work as a collaborator, which in my opinion, serves as a hallmark of Dr. Jha's achievements during his brief career at MSU."

Jha researches a number of weed-related issues, but his major focus at MSU has been glyphosate-resistant kochia, Kephart said. Kochia is a weed that steals water and nutrients from winter wheat. Some of the weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the chemical that was most successful at killing it.

In the process of trying to understand the weed's genetics, Jha has developed "tremendous experience using modern molecular techniques" and has gained major attention for his expertise, Kephart said.

Jha has created a prolific research program despite working in a remote location, Kephart said. He noted that Jha has brought in more than $4.8 million in outside funding to support his activities. He added that Jha has no formal teaching or MSU Extension appointment, but he has mentored five graduate students and three postdoctoral researchers. He is in constant demand as a speaker for Extension workshops, field days and grower conferences.

Norsworthy, who visited the SARC last summer, said he, too, was impressed by Jha's accomplishments. Although Jha works with a small number of colleagues in an isolated area, he established a molecular laboratory and obtained funding for infrastructure. He competed head to head with other outstanding weed scientists and came out on top for the early career award.

"Prashant is able to be a visionary in terms of understanding what is needed in becoming a successful weed scientist, a successful researcher," Norsworthy said. "I really admire Prashant for being able to accomplish that in Montana."

Jha is also unique because he serves as associate editor for two scientific journals: "Weed Science" and "Weed Technology," said Norsworthy, editor of "Weed Technology." As Jha's supervisor there, Norsworthy said Jha has done a fabulous job for the journal. Out of approximately 20 associate editors at "Weed Technology," Jha was first for the number of manuscripts he handled and turned around in 2017.

"Prashant is very efficient at what he does," Norsworthy said. "I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for what he has accomplished."

Jha, a native of India, earned his bachelor's degree in agriculture and his master's degree in agronomy and crop science from one of Asia's largest agricultural universities – Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University in Haryana, India. He then came to the United States where he earned his Ph.D. in weed science at Clemson University and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Arkansas.

Weeds in the South are different from those in the North, but herbicide-resistant weeds are a problem whether farmers grow wheat, sugar beet, corn, soybean or cotton, Jha said.

"Ninety-nine percent of the weed scientists across the South, Midwest and Great Plains are working on mitigating herbicide resistance," Jha said.

Jha's research program focuses on weed biology and ecology and evolutionary dynamics and integrated management of herbicide resistance. His current research also includes precision weed management.

Jha collaborates regionally and nationally with weed scientists and researchers in other disciplines to design cost-effective, integrated weed management strategies for dryland and irrigated cropping systems. For the area that includes Montana and the U.S. Great Plains and Pacific Northwest, Jha acknowledged his collaborators from University of Wyoming, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, University of Idaho, Oregon State University and Washington State University.

As a result of his research, Jha has so far published 50 peer reviewed journal articles, five book chapters, 24 Extension articles and 110 conference proceedings.

Since coming to MSU, Jha has won numerous awards in addition to his early career award. In 2016, he received the Outstanding Young Weed Scientist award from the Western Society of Weed Science, and in 2014 and 2015 he received the Outstanding Reviewer award from Weed Science Society of America and Crop Protection Elsevier. Before coming to MSU, he was named outstanding graduate student at Clemson University.

 

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