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Professor awarded sweet opportunity to study stevia

Published: 12/19/17 3:43PM
By: fordlatasha

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Dr. Bipul Biswas, a Fort Valley State University assistant professor of plant science for the biotechnology graduate program, grows stevia without soil at the specialty plant house on campus.

Dr. Bipul Biswas, a Fort Valley State University assistant professor of plant science, is receiving $345,406 from a $3,208,657 grant awarded to Michigan State University (MSU) to study stevia for four years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is funding the project through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) program. The title of the project is “Developing a sustainable stevia industry in the United States.”

Stevia, a natural and healthy alternative sweetener commonly produced in South America, could become a staple crop in the U.S. Biswas, who serves as principal investigator for FVSU, said the goal is to find ways to encourage farmers to grow the plant locally to enhance their income and help establish a stevia processing plant in the U.S.

Nine scientists from FVSU, 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.

As the leading institute, MSU is doing the analytical lab work. 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.”

With about 2 hectares of land available 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 Fort Valley is an ideal zone for stevia to grow almost all year-round, except during the cold months from Nov. 20 to Feb. 20. 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 mentioned that stevia is extracted from the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni and 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 biswasb@fvsu.edu.