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Issue: May/June 2000
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Northern PlainFacts.Northern PlainFacts image extension.

Issue: May/June 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:


New Project on Grasshopper Rangeland Impacts

Israeli Scientist Collaborates with Researcher

Collaborative Project to Study Vietnam Soils

Cooperative Work with Russian Scientists Begun

Spencer Receives National Honor Award

Groundbreaking Ceremonies Held in Sidney

New Leafy Spurge CD Now Available






In May 2000, Entomologist David Branson and Gary Belovsky (Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, UT) were awarded a three-year grant under the USDA-National Research Initiative-Competitive Grants Program. These funds will allow Branson and Belovsky to examine the role grasshoppers play in nutrient cycling. Rangeland managers have long viewed grasshoppers as detrimental because they consume forage that could be used by livestock and wildlife. This perspective ignores the role grasshopper consumption can play in increasing plant productivity by accelerating nutrient cycling. In certain ecosystems, grasshoppers speed up nitrogen cycling by changing the abundance and decomposition rate of plant litter. Under different environmental conditions, however, grasshoppers may be detrimental to plant production. Branson and Belovsky will attempt to determine what ecosystem characteristics permit grasshopper herbivory to either decrease or increase overall range productivity, and thus under what conditions grasshoppers warrant control.

(David Branson, 406-433-9406, dbranson[at]


In May 2000, visiting scientist Dr. Kalman Peleg from Technion in Haifa, Israel was welcomed to NPARL. A mathematician and engineer, Dr. Peleg is on a six-month sabbatical leave from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. He is working in cooperation with Dr. Gerry Anderson on a project sponsored by the United States-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD). BARD is an organization that supports cooperative agricultural research between scientists in the United States and Israel on topics considered to be of mutual benefit to the agriculture of both countries. While at NPARL, Dr. Peleg will be working with Dr. Anderson in his research in precision agriculture, using GIS and remote sensing technologies to help devise improved methods to control inputs on agricultural fields. Integral to this work is the concept that agricultural fields may be subdivided into smaller production zones for more efficient application of inputs. Dr. Anderson is also developing innovative ways to map and manage weed species on rangeland using these same technologies. Anderson's methods involve the use of cutting-edge tools that allow scientists to study crop and rangeland through specialized pictures that reveal differences in the soil, vegetation and other ecosystem components. The most recent addition to Anderson's stock of technologically advanced equipment is the CASI II Hyperspectral Imaging System. The CASI does much the same thing as a regular camera in obtaining images, but rather than acquiring information in red, green and blue wavelengths, the CASI acquires information in hundreds of wavelengths which can detect subtle differences in the reflective qualities of targets such as particular weed species. Peleg is applying his mathematical skills and techniques - such as Fourier transforms, wavelet transforms and chemometric analysis - to improve our ability to interpret the information gathered through aerial photographs using the new CASI technology. The ultimate goal of these research efforts is to improve detection and management of agroecosystem changes that will, in turn, improve the economic viability of producer operations.

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


In March 2000, Dr. TheCan Caesar traveled to France to initiate a scientific collaboration with scientists of CIRAD (Centre International de Recherches Agronomiques pour le Development, France) to work on a project involving mountain agricultural systems in Vietnam. Additional partners in the project include the following organizations: IRD (Institut de Recherches pour le Development, France); IRRI (International Rice Research Institute, Philippines); CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, Columbia); ICRAF (International Center for Agroforestry, Indonesia); and VASI (Institut National des Sciences Agronomiques Vietnamien, Vietnam). The long-term objective of this project is to identify productive, sustainable agricultural systems for sloping mountainous regions. Traditional cultural practices in rice cropping in the target region robs the soil of nutrients and contributes to soil erosion through deforestation. This research is designed to provide alternative management techniques for subsistence level producers that may ultimately prove beneficial to producers in similar agroecosystems around the world. This joint research will be conducted at existing CIRAD study sites having soil structural deficiencies and runoff problems. These sites are located at the village of Ban Cuon, district of Cho Don, where upland rice is the main crop. Dr. TheCan Caesar's current research, which studies the impact of soil disturbance on fungi that play a role in soil aggregation and stabilization, will be expanded into this tropical, mountainous agroecosystem. This scientific collaboration between CIRAD and USDA/ARS will enable Dr. Caesar to verify and compare data collected from studies in US agricultural systems with data developed in tropical agricultural systems. Caesar's work augments ongoing ARS programs on the development of sustainable soil management systems and strengthens ties between USDA/ARS and CIRAD.

(TheCan Caesar, 406-433-9415, caesart[at]


From April 13 through 17, Laboratory Director Neal Spencer met with biological control scientists at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. Research Entomologist Gaetano Campobasso (USDA/ARS/EBCL, Rome, Italy) accompanied Spencer. The purpose of the visit was to devise plans for the Russian scientists to support ARS in the discovery and development of new biological control agents for target weeds. Spencer and Campobasso prepared a draft Specific Cooperative Agreement (SCA) to cover the cooperation between the Institute and ARS, which was then signed by Spencer and Dr. Margarita Yu. Dolgovskaia, Chairwoman of the Biocontrol Department. In general, the Zoological Institute Biocontrol Department will be responsible for the discovery, identification, literature search, biology and life table for potential biocontrol agents. Campobasso will provide leadership and host range testing, while U.S.-based ARS scientists will provide funding and management of the scientific aspects of the program. While the talks during these four days centered on biocontrol agents for leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula-virgata), other weeds were also discussed. These weeds include: field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis); dyers woad (Isatis tinctoria); hoary cress (Cardaria draba); spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa); puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris); Perennial pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium) , and yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis).


Neal Spencer, director of the USDA-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, MT, received a 2000 Secretary's Honor Award Monday, June 5, at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman presented the award, which recognized Spencer for his "outstanding leadership in the development and implementation of research and management programs that promote the sensible use of our natural resources." Spencer was one of only five individuals or teams in the nation so honored this year in the category "Promoting Sensible Management of Natural Resources." Northern Plains Area ARS Director Will Blackburn, Ft. Collins, CO, nominated Spencer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most prestigious award, the first for an NPARL researcher. Spencer was recognized for his long and outstanding career as both research scientist and research leader within and outside ARS. For more than three decades, he has devoted himself to the development of environmentally friendly methods of pest control. His research has been key to the ongoing development of biological control as a tool to manage invasive weeds such as alligator weed, water hyacinth and leafy spurge. As laboratory director of the Sidney, MT facility, Spencer heads one of the fastest growing research labs in ARS, which, during his tenure, has added 10 new research programs including projects in precision agriculture, soil health, biological control of weeds and insect pests, and more. To accommodate the research expansion, Spencer is now overseeing the addition of a $7.9 million office/lab complex and insect quarantine facility to the site.

Other accomplishments earning Spencer the national award were:


On May 27, the official groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, MT. Over 200 people attended the event, which celebrated the new laboratory/office building and biocontainment facility that will be under construction soon. U.S. Senator Conrad Burns delivered the keynote address. Brief remarks were also made by other officials including: Area Office Director Will Blackburn; ARS Associate Administrator Ed Knipling; North Dakota State University Vice President Dr. Pat Jensen; Montana State University and NDSU Williston Research Center Director Dr. Jerry Bergman; and NPARL Laboratory Director Neal Spencer. U.S. Representative Rick Hill was represented by State Director Todd O'Hair while economic development advisor Liz Ching represented U.S. Senator Max Baucus. Awards honoring several individuals instrumental in securing funding for the new facilities were presented at the ceremonies. Recipients included local supporters Don Steinbeisser and John Franklin, along with the three-member Montana congressional delegation. The new facilities will add much needed research space (six new labs will be added to the four current ones) along with a state-of-the-art biocontainment facility, all to accommodate the tripling of research scientists at the facility in the last decade. Refreshments following the Award/Groundbreaking ceremonies featured regional agricultural products. An open house at NPARL was also held that afternoon, during which laboratory staff offered displays and brief talks about ongoing research. As a closing highlight to the day, Dr. Bergman led Drs. Blackburn and Knipling on a paddlefishing expedition, an experience unique to Yellowstone and Missouri River Country. Paddlefish are a type of prehistoric fish with an elongated snout that are caught by snagging. Dr. Blackburn landed a 73-pound specimen, complete with roe, while Dr. Knipling cast upstream and snagged a monster that broke his line.  


The new CD developed by Agricultural Research Service's TEAM Leafy Spurge project (headquartered at the Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, MT) is now available. Persons interested in receiving a copy of the pictorial CD, entitled "Leafy Spurge Biological Control Information & Photo Resource Gallery," should contact TEAM Leafy Spurge at 406-433-9427, or send an e-mail request to . The regular mailing address for the CD is USDA-ARS NPARL, Box 463, Sidney, MT 59270. The PC-compatible CD-ROM is free.


Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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