Research that makes a difference in Minnesota
Research-based information doesn't scream down the highway like an emergency vehicle headed to an accident. But research answers do get to the site quicker because of the Rapid Agricultural Response Fund (RARF) managed by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. The Minnesota Legislature created RARF in 1999 to speed response to urgent issues facing agriculture and natural resources. A few of the projects are underway at the University of Minnesota this summer.
Sudden oak death
Oak trees are dying in California and southern Oregon because of a fungus-like organism. This killer could hitchhike on plants being shipped into the state and damage our woodlands, urban forests and landscape plants. Plant pathologist Robert Blanchette and his team are developing a test to screen plants for this pathogen and assess the threat to Minnesota.
Sweet corn protection
Sweet corn is one of the joys of Minnesota summers. Unfortunately, the corn earworm enjoys chomping on sweet corn plants almost as much as we enjoy eating the ears. Summer winds blowing from the south give corn earworm moths a free ride into our state. This year Extension entomologist Bill Hutchison led a team that tracked the arrival of the corn earworm moths. These critters are becoming resistant to traditional control methods, including the pyre-throid insecticides. Hutchison's team tracked how many resistant earworms reached Minnesota and will develop methods for controlling the earworm in both organic and traditional production systems. The data can be found at www.vegedge.umn.edu.
The buzz on bees is that they are starting to disappear. About half the U.S. honeybees died during the winter of 2004–05 because of a parasitic mite called Varroa destructor. The loss reduces honey production and the pollination of fruits, vegetables and other plants. Pesticides were the only defense against Varroa destructor before Extension entomologist Marla Spivak's research team bred a bee that can resist diseases and mites. This year Spivak's team will develop tools beekeepers can use to evaluate mite infections, evaluate the use of resistant bees, and share information through Extension outlets and a web course called Healthy Bees. See www.extension.umn.edu/honeybees.
Soybeans are a $1.3 billion crop in Minnesota, and Asian soybean rust, just starting to enter the United States, threatens to bust profits and yields. Plant pathologists Jim Kurle and Dean Malvick are using a system of sentinel plots to give Minnesota farmers an early warning if soybean rust does reach us. This early warning will allow farmers to take preventive measures early when they are most effective. Extension experts and the website www.soybeans.umn.edu will provide timely and helpful information on what to do if soybean rust is detected in the sentinel plots.More information on RARF is available at www.rapidresponse.umn.edu