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Issue: January/February 2000
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Northern PlainFacts.Northern PlainFacts image extension.

Issue: January/February 2000

The Northern PlainFacts from the USDA-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Montana, offers brief updates on research, personnel and events at the lab, and includes contact names and e-mail addresses for those interested in further details.


In This Month's Issue:

Noxious Weed List Now Available Online

Leafy Spurge Control Agent Approved

Field Bindweed Control Agents Show Promise

Chickpea / Pigeonpea Pests: New Handbook

Steam Application For Weed Control

Area Producers Voice Priorities At Forum

New ARS Research Positions Optimized

NPARL Reorganized





Ecologist research associate Dr. Kerri Skinner was invited to give a presentation at the Montana Weed Control Association annual meeting held January 11-13 in Great Falls, MT. Her talk, entitled "Weed Regulation in North America: Which Species are Noxious and Why?" included the unveiling of a database recently developed by Dr. Skinner in conjunction with Dr. Lincoln Smith and Peter Rice of the University of Montana, Missoula. All noxious weed lists for the continental United States as well as Canada's southern provinces have been incorporated into this database. This comprehensive noxious weed list is a valuable resource for regulatory officials and weed managers who need information concerning how significant a problem a specific weed may represent. It also will be a useful tool for decision-makers as they target research efforts to weed species where the greatest impact per expenditure can be made. It is now available on-line through the INVADERS Database System at .

(Kerri Skinner, 406-433-9484, kskinner[at]


Biological Technician Kimberly Mann and Research Leader Neal Spencer have recently obtained approval from the interagency Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on their petition regarding a prospective biological control agent for the noxious weed leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula). The petition to release the scolytid beetle Thamnurgus euphorbiae was based on research conducted by Research Entomologist Gaetano Campobasso (USDA-ARS, European Biological Control Laboratory, Rome, Italy) and cooperating scientist Massimo Cristofaro (Centro Ricerche Energia-Casaccia, BIOAG-ECO). Now that the beetle has passed this important step in the regulatory process, an Environmental Assessment will be drafted and submitted to APHIS. Research done in Italy has shown Thamnurgus euphorbiae to be highly host-specific. It is a stem feeder, with both larvae and adults tunneling in stem tissues. This tunneling activity greatly weakens host plant stems and also reduces the production of viable seeds. It is hoped that this beetle may make a unique and valuable contribution to the strategies currently in place to battle leafy spurge.

(Kim Mann, 406-433-9428, mannk[at]  


Scientists working in Slovakia in conjunction with Dr. Lincoln Smith report progress in the effort to develop biological control agents for field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis. Dr. Massimo Cristofaro in Rome, Italy (European Biological Control Laboratory, Montpelier, France) coordinates the project in Europe. Insight into the life history of a potential control agent, the stem miner fly, Melagromyza albocilia, was expanded through the efforts of Dr. Ludovit Cagan, project leader in Slovakia, and his assistants. The researchers obtained detailed information regarding the insect's association with field bindweed throughout its life cycle, including environmental factors that may impact the fly's effective habitat range. The researchers also advanced knowledge of the life histories of other possible biological control agents of field bindweed. This collaboration should lead to permitting of more biological control agents to use against field bindweed in the United States.

(Lincoln Smith, 406-433-9439, lsmith[at]


A newly released information bulletin entitled "Identification and Management of Pigeonpea and Chickpea Insect Pests in Asia" was co-authored by NPARL scientist Dr. Thomas G. Shanower and Senior Scientist G.V. Ranga Rao (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Andhra Pradesh, India). This publication includes photographs and descriptions of major insect pests of these important legume crops as well as information on natural enemies and control strategies. These control strategies focus on methods that represent alternatives to the use of insecticides. Already significant in other parts of the world, these two legume crops are gaining increased attention in the United States. In Montana, chickpea is being promoted as an alternative crop with good economic potential, while in the southern Great Plains pigeonpea is being evaluated as a drought resistant forage crop.

(Tom Shanower, 406-433-9405, tshanowe[at]


Results of research conducted by Dr. Robert Kolberg and Dr. Lori J. Wiles (USDA-ARS, AERC, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO) on the use steam for weed control revealed that the key factors in determining effectiveness are the amount of steam applied, the weed growth stage at treatment, and the particular weed species. This project evaluated steam application on weeds under field conditions at various growth stages and compared steam treatment with systemic and contact herbicide treatments. The researchers discovered that younger plants of the species studied were generally more susceptible to control by steam. Of the weed species tested, broad-leaved weeds were more susceptible than grasses. Future research plans include the addition of adjuvants such as surfactants or oils to increase burndown effectiveness.

(Robert Kolberg, 406-433-9408, rkolberg[at]


On February 11, NPARL hosted a focus group for area producers. The primary purpose of this activity was to enhance the link between ARS scientists and their customers. More than 30 producers from the region attended the three-hour session, including dry land farmers, irrigated land farmers and ranchers. NPARL's entire professional scientific staff attended and took part in the various activities. An opening presentation made by Laboratory Director Neal Spencer provided area producers with an overview of the current research programs underway at NPARL. Throughout the program, the availability of ARS scientific support for producers was emphasized, as were ARS intentions to keep its research programs on track with producer requirements. The focus group session offered producers in attendance opportunities to voice their concerns and discuss their expectations for support from ARS. This focus group enhanced NPARL scientists' understanding of area producer needs, and improved their ability to tailor ARS services to meet these needs. NPARL is continuing this dialogue with area producers.


Dr. Gerald Anderson participated in a conference concerning high-dollar value cropping in Fargo, ND in early January. Key goals of the discussions were to coordinate research efforts and to tailor four new ARS positions. These positions will be staffed this year to fill research niches that are not currently being actively pursued. Two of these new permanent positions will be located in Sidney, including one for a laboratory/field pathologist and one for a water management/quality specialist. ARS units in Ft. Collins and Fargo will each benefit from one new research position. The development of new ARS research positions with broad input from ARS personnel and outside specialists supports better integration of existing programs and improved efficiency in meeting overall ARS program objectives.

(Gerry Anderson, 406-433-9416, ganderson[at] )


The Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory underwent an organizational restructuring during the week of February 21. In 1996, when NPARL was reviewed and organized as a single research unit, Dr. Will Blackburn (Area Director, USDA/ARS Northern Plains Area) envisioned a future when growth of the laboratory and its research programs would be better served by multiple research subunits. This time has now come. An increase in the number of management units will better support the mission of the laboratory, and customers and stake holders will see improvements in research accomplishments. This new structure of the laboratory has resulted in two research units under a single laboratory director. The existing Pest Management and Agricultural Systems Research Unit with fourteen scientists has been divided into the Pest Management Research Unit and the Agricultural Systems Research Unit. Neal Spencer, Research Leader for the laboratory since 1997, has moved to the position of Laboratory Director. This arrangement increases management's ability to respond to outside pressures, to oversee building construction, and to take responsibility for NPARL's overall mission. Soil scientist Verlan Cochran has been appointed Research Leader for the Agricultural Systems Research Unit. Under his leadership, this research unit will be responsible for both irrigated and dryland agricultural research programs. Dr.Thomas Shanower, an entomologist, will lead the Pest Management Research Unit's program of research on insect and weed pests. Both of the new Research Leaders will be in an acting capacity until a national search can be conducted to find permanent leaders.

(Verlan Cochran, 406-433-9402, vcochran[at]

(Tom Shanower, 406-433-9405, tshanowe[at]


Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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