Maria Gannett, PhD student in the Field of Horticulture advised by Jenny Kao-Kniffin and Toni DiTommaso, has been awarded a graduate fellowship from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture (FFAR). The fellowship grants $150,000 over three years, with roughly half of the funding provided by an industry partner. Gannett’s thesis research is focused on manipulation of soil microbes to enhance growth of crop plants relative to weed competitors. Her industry partner, American Vanguard Company (AMVAC), develops precision application technologies and is interested in incorporating research findings on soil biological functioning.
FFAR was established as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. The Fellows Program was created to provide professional development and career guidance to the next generation of food and agriculture scientists and is led by the Academic Programs Office at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. In addition to a $2.7 million commitment from FFAR, funding for the program is matched by a consortium of industry leaders. By providing early career support to graduate students, the fellowship cultivates supportive relationships between graduate students and industry peers to equip students with the skills needed to facilitate their transition to the workforce and prepare future leaders for food and agriculture. Fellows are co-mentored over the course of the 3-year program by university and industry representatives, and engage with their peers in professional development programming both virtually and at the annual one-week residential sessions.
As described in her FFAR profile, Gannett’s interest in weed control grew during her time in the Peace Corps where she observed the challenges of weed management in rural Senegal. In other parts of the world, heavy reliance on chemical herbicides such as glyphosate is leading to an increase in herbicide-resistant weeds. However, greater understanding of the interactions of soil chemistry, the soil microbiome, and the relative nutritional needs of plants, has the potential to reveal new strategies for weed suppression through targeted manipulation of these variables.
Gannett values this opportunity as the industry collaboration enables her to pursue fundamental research with real applications in farming systems and the program encourages innovation by gathering diverse stakeholders together. “This fellowship is especially unique in that it emphasizes professional skill development with our cohort. I’m really honored to be part of the program and hope I can share some of the skills I learn with the SIPS community.”