National award goes to MSU scientist fighting weeds

Montana State University agriculture professor Prashant Jha was named the Outstanding Early Career Weed Scientist by the Weed Science Society of America.

MSU photo
courtesy of Sepp Jannotta

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.

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

Now stationed at MSU’s SARC near Huntley, Jha was nominated for the early career award by Krishna Reddy, research leader of the USDAARS Crop Production Systems Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi.

“Dr. Jha is becoming a recognized expert at the national, and perhaps international, level for his work with herbicide-resistant weeds,” Ken Kephart, superintendent of the SARC, wrote. “He has been 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.

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.

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.

Jha is also unique because he serves as associate editor for two scientific journals: “Weed Science” and “Weed Technology,” said Jason Norsworthy, editor of “Weed Technology.” As Jha’s supervisor there, Norsworthy said Jha has done a fabulous job for the journal.

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.

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