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United States Department of Agriculture

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Issue: March/April 2001
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Northern PlainFacts.Northern PlainFacts image extension.

Issue: March/April 2001

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:


Upcoming Events

Results of Reader Questionnaire

Construction of New Complex Underway in Sidney

Variable Rate Fertilization Increases Yields

MSU, NPARL Scientists Receive Sugarbeet Pest Funding

Pathogenic Fungi Contributions to Weed Control

New Staff Mycologist at NPARL

NPARL Reviews Programs at Research Retreats

Economist Participates in Economic Outlook Seminar

NPARL Technician Leads Knapweed Workshop

NPARL Scientist Speaks at Career Day In Arizona

NPARL Scientists Speak at Alaska Forum

4-H Entomology Project Led by NPARL Staff Member

TEAM LeafySpurge Outreach in Manitoba







NPARL scientists are participating in a number of outreach events in coming months. Included below is a list of those events, their dates and locations.


Spurgefest 2

June 19-21, 2001, in Medora, N.D.

To find out more, click on....


Vth International Safflower Conference

July 23-27, 2001

Williston, ND & Sidney, MT


Thanks to all our readers who participated in our Jan/Feb PlainFacts questionnaire. Your contributions are greatly appreciated and will provide the basis for any future revisions in our PlainFacts format. Altogether, we received 39 responses from readers in more than five states. Topics of most interest were Weed Control (36) followed by Insect Pest Control (29), Alternative Crops (28), Upcoming Events (28), Soil and Water Quality (27), Economic/Entrepreneurial Issues (22), Precision Agriculture (19) and Irrigation (18). Those adding comments or additional information requests cited grasslands, riparian areas, Canada thistle, focus groups, outreach, diversity, and customer support as topics of particular interest to them. In response to the other questions posed: 27 out of 39 respondents said they would be interested in expanded articles being made available on the PlainFacts Internet site. Those opposed noted the shorter offerings best fit their needs. 22 out of 39 respondents expressed interest in the addition of a Question and Answer section. All respondents noted that they read the PlainFacts on a regular basis and found the information contained in it useful, particularly for keeping up with activities at NPARL. Again, we thank everyone for responding and we will announce changes arising out of this effort in future issues.


Construction on the new 21,800-square-foot laboratory/office complex at NPARL in Sidney officially began the last week in March. In pre-construction meetings held Mar. 27-28 in Sidney, representatives from the USDA Facilities Division in Beltsville, MD, which is administering the multi-million-dollar project, met with NPARL officials to explain and coordinate startup of the construction. Completion is set for 360 days. Also participating in the meetings were representatives from: Merrick and Co. of Denver, CO, the architects on the project; Kringen Construction of Sidney, MT, the project contractor; the USDA-ARS Northern Plains Area Office of Ft. Collins, CO; and invited community leaders. Kringen Construction began preliminary cleaning and leveling of the site in March and early April with the major construction phase beginning in late April/early May. Completion of the facility in Spring 2002 will provide NPARL with new research labs, offices and tech transfer facilities.


Analysis of years 1999 and 2000 field data completed in February by the precision agriculture team revealed higher yields for sugar beet and corn when variable rate fertilization was used as compared to conventional methods. Sugar beet production averaged approximately 4480 kg/hectare (2 tons/acre) higher in the treatment where the fertilizer was variably applied compared to the control treatments where fertilizer was uniformly applied. No significant difference was seen in the sugar content or brie nitrate. Corn yield was improved by about 279 kg/hectare (4.44 bu/acre) by using the variable rate fertilization. The precision agriculture (or "site specific farm management") project has been researching the value of variable rate application of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilizer.

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

Bill Iversen (406-433-9410, biversen[at] )


Dr. Stefan Jaronski, Research Entomologist at NPARL and Dr. Barry Jacobsen, Professor of Plant Pathology at Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, have been funded by the Western Regional IPM Program of the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) to pursue a biologically-based program for the control of Sugarbeet Root Maggot and sugarbeet root rot diseases. Jaronski's research concerns the development of a mycoinsecticide for control of sugarbeet root maggot. Dr. Jacobsen has developed several bacterial agents active against the root rot pathogens and Cercospora Leaf Spot, with an aim of replacing or reducing chemical fungicide use. Their joint research will evaluate the interaction of the two groups of agents with each other, as well as the soil ecology of the mycoinsecticidal fungi. The grant is for the next two years with a third year contingent upon progress. The two scientists are currently awaiting word about a National Research Initiative Program proposal to support other aspects of their work.

(Stefan Jaronski, voice 406-433-9486 or 406-433-2020; fax 406-433-5038; sjaronski[at]; USDA/ARS, Box 463, Sidney, MT 59270)


Plant Pathologist Tony Caesar was invited to present a talk entitled "Insect/pathogen interactions in biological control of weeds" at the annual S268 meeting on Biological Control of Weeds with Plant Pathogens in Ft. Pierce FL March 1820. Caesar reported that soilborne plant pathogens are the major contributors to the eventual death of leafy spurge when insects and pathogens are combined. Using greenhouse data, Caesar has demonstrated that pathogenic fungi, which were obtained from insectdamaged and diseased root tissue in the field, are approximately four times more likely to cause the death of spurge than insects. In the field, Caesar believes the contribution of the fungal component is likely to be even higher. Caesar has also found that low densities of both pathogensin numbers below the minimum levels needed to cause disease alonecan cause death of the weed. These findings indicate that proper placement of realistic, attainable numbers of soilborne plant pathogens can dramatically increase the proportion of sites showing reduced stand density following establishment of root-feeding insects. Thus, there is no necessity to "overload" the system with the pathogens to effectively achieve an insect/pathogen synergism.

(Anthony Caesar, 406-433-9412, caesara[at] )


Systemic Mycologist Dr. Francis Harrington joined NPARL in December 2000. Harrington obtained her Ph.D. from Cornell University and subsequently pursued post-doctoral work at Harvard University, Cornell University and the National Institute of Health. Prior to accepting her current position at NPARL, Harrington was sytematic/taxonomic mycologist and curator of DNA sequences for the fungal database as well as the nematode database at NIH in Bethesda, MD. At NPARL, Harrington will be working with Plant Pathologist Anthony Caesar to study fungi and other microorganisms for potential use in the integrated pest management of noxious weeds.

(Francis Harrington, 406-433-9439, mharrington[at]


NPARL scientists and technicians participated in two daylong Research Retreats held March 23 (Pest Management Research Unit) and March 30 (Agricultural Systems Research Unit). Designed to assess local research efforts and set future directions, these retreats are the first of their kind held at NPARL. During each session scientists provided overviews of their individual research, including accomplishments, collaborative opportunities and ultimate goals. These presentations were followed by group discussions addressing the goals of each Unit as a whole. Participants were asked to identify expected outcomes at one-, five- and ten-year intervals, list any impediments and note who is expected to benefit from their research. The overall purpose of the retreats was to ensure that NPARL research focuses on the needs of its customers and stakeholders. Once summaries of the Retreat proceedings have been completed, they will be published on NPARL's Internet site for comments from area producers and other interested parties.


Agricultural Economist Joan Danielson gave a presentation at the 2001 Montana Economic Outlook Seminar in Sidney, MT on March 6. The seminar sponsored by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, Missoula provides projections of income and employment as well as state and local area economic analysis. Thirty local business leaders and agricultural producers attended the annual event. Economists from the University of Montana and Montana State University presented statewide analysis, while Danielson's talk focused on the local agricultural outlook.

(Joan Danielson, 406-433-9442, jdaniels[at] )


On April 18 and 23, NPARL Biological Science Technician Mary Mayer served as an instructor in the Noxious Weed Short Course for Federal Land Managers in Bozeman, MT. The popular course, which targets federal, state, and county land managers, is sponsored by the MT Department of Agriculture and the Western Society of Weed Science and attracts participants from agencies located throughout the Western United States. During each course, Mayer conducted 8 workshops for approximately 35 people each on the biological control of knapweeds (Russian, spotted and diffuse). These hands-on sessions included work with live specimens of knapweed root feeding insects (immature stages of Agapeta, and Cyphocleonus ) and seedhead feeders (Urophora spp. and Larinus). She also supplied leafy spurge roots with Aphthona larvae for the spurge workshop, as well as specimens for the Canada thistle training (Urophora cardui and Ceutorynchus litura). Mayer has led the knapweed component of the course for the past five years at the request of Montana Department of Agriculture.

(Mary Mayer, 406-433-9426, mayerm[at] )


Research Ecologist Dr. Gregory Sword was invited to speak at the University of Arizona as part of its biennial Biology Career Day in Tucson, AZ on March 3. Biology Career Day provides an opportunity for university students, faculty and staff to meet with individuals from across the country whose careers actively incorporate training in the biological sciences. Representatives from industry, government, academia and the private sector in diverse areas including research, law, business, public policy, journalism, and conservation offered perspectives at the event. A 1992 graduate of the University Arizona, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, currently Sword is investigating ecologically-based grasshopper management at NPARL.

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


Dr. Dennis Fielding and Dr. Sultan Begna presented an update of their grasshopper-related research at the 2001 Delta Junction Farm Forum held on March 3 in Fairbanks, AK. Local producers, extension personnel and land resource managers at both federal and state levels, attended the forum, sponsored by the Alaska Cooperative Extensive Service. Entomologist Fielding compared and contrasted the various species of grasshoppers he and his team found last summer, in terms of abundance, food habits, habitat preferences, damage potential, and propensity for invasion of crops. Agronomist Begna reviewed some results obtained from greenhouse experiments, relating barley yield components to different levels of grasshopper damage. Lunch was potluck, featuring locally produced agricultural products including reindeer sausage and roast bison.

(Sultan Begna, 907-474-7628, ffshb[at]

(Dennis Fielding, 907-474-2439, ffdjf1[at] )


On March 10, Biological Science Technician Sarah Bucklin-Comiskey, the Richland County 4-H Entomology Project leader, delivered the first entomology workshop and organizational meeting for the 4-H Entomology Project. Thirty people attended including Richland County 4-H members (aged 7 to 16), leaders, parents, and individuals from the community. Bucklin-Comiskey discussed collecting strategies, curation techniques, and insect taxonomy. She also displayed a portion of her personal insect collection of various orders to demonstrate the diversity of insects, proper pinning techniques, different mounting and labeling techniques, and proper display of the collection. This was the first in a series of entomology workshops that Bucklin-Comiskey will administer. She plans to enrich and enhance the Entomology Project for 4-H members through teaching, hands-on activities, field trips, individual and team goal setting, and community service. Through the program, she hopes to attract more youth to the field of Entomology and develop supporting partnerships between the 4-H program and other agencies/organizations.

(Sarah Bucklin-Comiskey, 406-433-9487, scomiskey[at] )


TEAM Leafy Spurge coordinator Chad Prosser spoke on March 21 at the fourth annual Municipal Weed Control Issues meeting in Holland, Manitoba. Prosser gave a presentation on herbicide, grazing, and biological control tools to manage leafy spurge to more than 200 Canadian weed control officers. Prosser took this opportunity to network with Canadian weed control officers and weed board members, as well as members of the Manitoba Leafy Spurge Stakeholders Group. Participation in the Municipal Weed Control meeting, the third invitation for TEAM Leafy Spurge in the past three years, reflects TEAM Leafy Spurge's commitment to collaboration in order to achieve the ultimate objective of controlling leafy spurge in North America.

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


Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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