Ashok Chanda believes “seeing is believing,” so he teaches about sugar beet diseases by showing instead of just telling. This makes his annual field day at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center in Crookston popular with the busy growers and crop consultants in the Red River Valley across Minnesota and North Dakota. They want to learn what’s new in disease management, but the time spent has to be worth it when they could be working on the farm.
Chanda, a University of Minnesota Extension plant pathologist, is developing a soil DNA-based detection method that he hopes will help growers make decisions about what varieties to plant based on a sample of their soil. “The major challenge with root diseases is that by the time we see above-ground disease symptoms, it is too late to do any management,” he says. “We are also using remote sensing to detect wavelengths specific to these root diseases before we see any visible above ground symptoms. Our results look very promising.”
It helps that sugar beet growers wholeheartedly embrace technology. “Unlike other commodities, such as soybeans, sugar beet is a perishable commodity,” Chanda says. “The growers take pride in delivering the best sugar beets to the factories and the factories do a tremendous job of storing the beets and processing them into sugar.”
Formed by the glacial Lake Agassiz, the Red River Valley spreads across the border of Minnesota and North Dakota. The fertile soils create a rich bed for crops, making agriculture the top employer and economic driver. Research and education about threats to those crops keep the region healthy, benefiting the economy and environment of both states.
American Crystal Sugar Company, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, and Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative provide funding for the sugar beet pathologist position. This generous funding from the industry supports effective, practical science-based solutions for the sugar beet growing region.