Dr. Bipul Biswas, a Fort Valley State University assistant professor of plant science, is receiving a four-year, $345,406 grant to study stevia, a natural and healthy sweetener alternative to common sugar. He is working to find ways to encourage farmers to grow the plant locally to enhance their income and increase the viability of a stevia processing plant in the United States. Commonly produced in South America, stevia could become a staple crop in this country through the impact of this research.
The “Developing a Sustainable Stevia Industry in the United States” project is funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). Nine scientists from FVSU, Michigan State University (MSU), Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) University, and North Carolina State University (NCSU) are collaborating on this research. The project will also provide graduate assistantship to two FVSU biotechnology graduate students and one postdoctoral researcher for four years. Biswas’s grant is part of $3,208,657 awarded to Michigan State University (MSU), the lead institution for the project.
Much of the analytical lab work will be performed by MSU. FVSU, Alabama A&M, and NCSU are conducting field trials on the stevia crop to evaluate the effect of locations on yield, diseases and weed problems.
“We first want to see how stevia is performing in the field with different growing conditions because farmers want to know when to plant, how to harvest, and how much irrigation is required, or if there are any problems with diseases,” Biswas said. “We will conduct field trials at FVSU’s Agricultural Research Station and on farmland where farmers are interested in growing stevia.”
Using almost 5 acres of land on the FVSU campus for stevia field trials, Biswas plans to offer workshops for farmers and home growers.
Additionally, FVSU is considering growing stevia in various conditions, including organic farming and intercropping in peach orchards. Biswas noted that Fort Valley, GA is an ideal zone for stevia to grow almost all year-round, except during the cold months from Nov. 20 to Feb. 20. He notes that Fort Valley can harvest stevia three times a year: in May, August, and November.
“Farmers and home growers can use the leaf as it is for their own use or they can sell it to companies,” Biswas said. He also believes that stevia could help treat ailments such as obesity, cancer and high blood pressure.
“These are the main problems in our society, so stevia is the best candidate to choose to do research for our own benefit,” Biswas said.
The purpose of NIFA’s SCRI program is to address the critical needs of the specialty crop industry. The organization awards grants to support research and outreach programs that address key challenges of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture.
For more information about the stevia project, contact Biswas at (478) 825-6827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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FVSU Agricultural Communications Department