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Issue: July/August 2000
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Northern PlainFacts.Northern PlainFacts image extension.

Issue: July/August 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:


Research Ecologist Joins NPARL

New Plot Combine for Agricultural Systems Unit

Noxious Weeds Lists Useful for Prioritizing Targets

Field Day for Dryland Producers Held

TEAM Leafy Spurge Concludes Field Season

TEAM Leafy Spurge Web Site Revamped

Wheat Stem Sawfly Update

NPARL Rep Helps Coordinate Host Specificity Tests

Hyperspectral Imaging Done in Park




In August, NPARL welcomed Dr. Greg Sword to its professional staff. Dr. Sword obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Texas in 1998. He subsequently pursued two years of postdoctoral research for USDA under the National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRICGP). This allowed Dr. Sword to work at Oxford University, and to undertake field studies on the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) in Mauritania in western Africa. After returning from England, Dr. Sword conducted follow up research on North American Schistocerca spp. in Texas. As a research ecologist at NPARL, Dr. Sword's approach will be to investigate specific grasshopper-plant interactions in order to better understand the ecological mechanisms and processes that produce damaging outbreaks. He also plans to maintain an international research program on the ecology and evolution of locust swarm formation.

(Greg Sword, 406-433-9429, gsword[at]


On June 19, 2000, agronomist Dr. Robert Kolberg accepted delivery of a new Massey Ferguson plot combine. The Massey 8XP was purchased with two headers: a two-row corn header that will also accommodate sunflowers; and a 5 ft. grain header capable of handling a variety of crops such as peas, canola, safflower, alfalfa (for seed) as well as small grains. Manufactured in Finland, the 8XP received further enhancements at the US distributorship (Kincaid Equipment) in Kansas. These included a side-mounted weigh bucket connected to a Harvest Master data collection system for efficient and accurate recording of yield data, and an air delivery system which automatically collects a sample of the harvested crop. This equipment will greatly enhance research dealing with alternative dryland cropping systems, soil quality, and irrigated crops.

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


Research Associate Dr. Kerri Skinner has found that analysis of information available in state and provincial noxious weed lists may be useful in determining which alien weeds should be targeted for management. In a paper to be published this fall in conjunction with entomologist Dr. Lincoln Smith (formerly of NPARL) and Peter Rice (Division of Biological Science, University of Montana, Missoula, MT), Dr. Skinner reports the results of a study designed to identify weeds that are nationally most problematic and to determine which of these are not currently targeted by biological control programs. Based on noxious weed lists from 32 U.S. states and 6 Canadian provinces, a tabulation providing a rough prioritization of weeds needing management was developed. Of the 45 most commonly listed noxious weeds, six are grasses and sedges. No biological control programs have been initiated for any of the problem grasses, while biological control programs have targeted 25 of the 39 broad-leaved weeds. As a result of this study, Dr. Skinner recommends exploratory studies be initiated to determine the feasibility of developing biological control agents for those selected grasses and sedges. Noxious weed lists analyses, such as Dr. Skinner's, can provide guidance to decision-makers as they strive to optimally allocate limited resources in the realm of weed management. The database of noxious weeds lists used for this analysis is available on the Internet at

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


On July 27, 2000, more than twenty area producers attended a field day program co-sponsored by the NPARL and the Roosevelt and Sheridan County Conservation Districts. The event was held at the Culbertson/Froid Agricultural Research Farm. Participants began the day with a special treat, fresh donuts made on the spot from locally produced Montola safflower oil and area wheat and sugar commodities. Montola Growers Inc. of Culbertson hosted the coffee session, which led off the 90-minute tour featuring six presentations at various research locations on the farm. The first speaker, Paul Finnicum (Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS), gave a brief explanation of the merits of Kura Clover ( Trifolium ambiguum) and Dahurian Wildrye (Elymus diahuricus) as forage crops at a test plot where producers could examine the two species in productive stands. NPARL Biological Science Technician Deb Waters described practical methods for growers to use to identify problems with three insect pests of wheat: the wheat stem maggot; the orange wheat blossom midge; and the wheat stem sawfly. Soil Scientist Verlan Cochran briefly discussed long-term tillage and the role of soil-aggregating fungi in soil health. With his test plots behind him for reference, agronomist Dr. Robert Kolberg described his long-term cropping systems research that is incorporating alternative crops in rotation with wheat. He also gave an update on the proposed new project to begin this fall in cooperation with Montana State University that will study a variety of annual forages in rotation with wheat. Following were comments by Joan Danielson, an agricultural economist at NPARL, who suggested that the region will likely remain a strong wheat and durum growing area but that alternative crops will become increasingly important. She also believes that area producers will be forced to use farmland more intensively in order to keep operations economically viable. Standing next to a monitoring well, Mike Christoffersen (Roosevelt County Conservation District) discussed the effectiveness and availability of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), an NRCS program to assist landowners in the management of saline seep. In closing remarks, Laboratory Director Neal Spencer said prospects for the region are favorable, and that ARS was poised to provide the technological edge needed to keep the area's agricultural operations competitive in the world market. Lunch was provided courtesy of the Roosevelt and Sheridan County Conservation Districts.  


The USDA-ARS TEAM Leafy Spurge area-wide program recently completed another successful field season, according to program manager Chad Prosser. Highlights included the program's expansion into the Heart (North Dakota), Grand (South Dakota) and Powder (Wyoming) river drainages; the distribution of 16.5 million Aphthona spp. leafy spurge flea beetles, and the production and distribution of a new biocontrol manual. This year's flea beetle distributions bring TEAM Leafy Spurge's three-year total to more than 40 million flea beetles, enough for 13,000-plus new release sites. Also widely distributed by the program was the new 20-page, full color manual, "Biological Control of Leafy Spurge." Originally intended for ranchers in the four- state study area, the manual was ultimately distributed to end users in 16 states and four Canadian provinces. Demand for the manual has been high with more than 14,000 copies distributed in one six-week period. The manual can be downloaded as a PDF file from the TEAM Leafy Spurge website at .

(Chad Prosser, 406-433-9403, cprosser[at] )


The TEAM Leafy Spurge website at has received a major facelift. The revised site, which provides extensive information on integrated pest management strategies for leafy spurge, includes: summaries of TEAM Leafy Spurge projects; an extensive listing of contacts; a photo library of leafy spurge biocontrol agents; an archive of papers presented at leafy spurge symposiums; a frequently asked questions page; biographies of program participants; PDFs of the TEAM's informational brochures (including the new biocontrol manual), and more. Almost all of the content is new. In total, the site consists of 268 web pages (equivalent to about 400 pages of printed text), 2,256 total files in 55 folders, and nearly 700 megabytes of images. While pleased with the new site, TEAM Leafy Spurge co-principal investigator Gerry Anderson (NPARL ecologist and remote sensing specialist) added that end users can offer suggestions for further improvement using links on the site to e-mail comments to TEAM Leafy Spurge personnel and other leafy spurge specialists.

(Chad Prosser, 406-433-9403, cprosser[at]

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


NPARL research entomologist Tom Shanower and Biological Science Technician Deb Waters traveled to Scott's Bluff, Nebraska and Torrington, Wyoming in late June to collect wheat stem sawfly samples in winter wheat. The infestation data from the trip will be combined with data already collected in Montana and North Dakota to develop a comprehensive map of sawfly infestations in the northern Great Plains. This mapping effort will not only detail distribution and incidence data, but also include precipitation levels, soil type, vegetation and grain type for each site. Grain type is important because of the pest's adaptive powers. For example, while the sawfly historically attacks spring wheat in Montana and North Dakota, in the last decade, sawfly infestations have turned up in Western Montana winter wheat crops. Ultimately, researchers hope to use this data to help predict future infestations and to identify appropriate control measures for infested areas. In addition to the mapping effort, Shanower and Waters will also be examining these and future samples for sawfly parasites, one of the arsenal of biological control tools they hope to harness in the battle to control the pest. Their work is part of a multi-national, multi-organizational effort to improve biological control of the wheat stem sawfly, a pest that causes more than $100 million a year in yield losses to northern Great Plains producers. Partners in the project include Montana State University, the European Biological Control Laboratory, the Sino-American Biological Control Laboratory and others.

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

(Deb Waters, 406-433-9491, Dwaters[at] )


NPARL Biological Technician Kim Mann recently spent four weeks at the USDA-ARS Rome Station of the European Biological Control Laboratory (EBCL) in Italy, coordinating and assisting in host specificity tests for a potential new biological control agent for leafy spurge. This agent, Aphthona russica, is a large, black flea beetle from Russia that feeds on both leafy spurge roots and leaves. Surveys for weed biological control agents are intensifying in Russia because its climate is similar to that of the northern Great Plains. This work is being conducted in cooperation with Russian scientists, and with EBCL staff, including research entomologist Dr. Gaetano Campobasso. Mann's hands-on experience will ensure that leafy spurge host specificity testing procedures used at the Rome lab will be comparable to those used at NPARL's new biocontainment facility once construction is completed. Mann will head up the new facility, which will enable NPARL researchers to conduct on-site host specificity tests with the target weed and related plant species native to North America. At present, the Sidney lab ships all its native plants to the Rome lab for testing.

(Kim Mann, 406-433-9428, mannk[at] )


On June 28, remote sensing scientist Dr. Gerry Anderson (Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory, Sidney, MT) participated as part of a research team at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND in the first employment of the laboratory's new state-of-the-art CASI II Hyperspectral Imaging System. This system includes two components: a hyperspectral radiometer that is used to map the spectral curve of a target plant, in this case leafy spurge, and a hyperspectral imaging system that is used to produce images made up of the spectral curves collected by the radiometers. The handheld radiometer information is collected on the ground, while the larger imaging system data is collected from planes flying overhead. The new system will enable researchers to more accurately map the spectral curve of target areas to identify potential weed infestations (as compared to traditional aerial photography) and will allow collection of information over a longer period of time. Currently, there is approximately a two-week period in which to map leafy spurge using traditional photographic techniques because that is the only time the plant's yellowish bracts are oriented directly skyward. The increased sensitivity of the hyperspectral system extends that "window" throughout the growing season since it identifies the weed using information other than its telltale yellow bracts. The goal is to more accurately map changes in the target area and identify weed infestations early in the season, before they gain a foothold. The new technology is intended for use by land managers overseeing large acreages, such as park or forest supervisors, who can't regularly traverse their holdings in search of potential weed problems. The two-year program is currently in its first year, but is showing real promise, as the data collected so far appears excellent. The biggest challenge facing the researchers may be the enormous volume of information that has to be collected and analyzed. In addition to the weed mapping effort, Anderson and project head Karl Brown of Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, will be doing a cost-benefit analysis of a variety of remote sensing technologies currently in use, including the new hyperspectral system, to determine which will provide the "biggest bang for the buck." Other agencies participating in the study include the National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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


Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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