Minnesota Soybean Business

Research Warriors: University center fights pests to help farmers

As the years pass, farmers continue hearing reports of new yield-robbing foes in their fields. Whether it is a weed, pest or disease, there is always a need for continued research to find resolutions.

For nearly five years, experts with the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants & Pests Center (MITPPC) have set out to tackle the state’s top invasive species problems. Many of these issues also affect soybean farmers’ bottom line – including Palmer amaranth, sudden death syndrome, brown marmorated stink bug, soybean aphid and buckthorn.

“Some of the worst pests, diseases and weeds affecting soybeans are invasive species, but we don’t always talk about them that way,” says MITPPC Director Rob Venette. “Studying these problems through an ‘invasive-species’ lens allows us to see the bigger picture.”

The Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) collaborates with the MITPPC. This partnership has grown stronger as new issues affect growers.

“Soybean checkoff dollars are here to fund research projects in a variety of areas,” says David Kee, Minnesota Soybean’s director of research and MITPPC Advisory Board member. “We are grateful for the continued partnership with the MITPPC to help us with these projects.”

With any research, it takes time to get accurate, precise results, which is why the Center funds researchers from departments and Research and Outreach Centers across the University of Minnesota system. One joint project gaining momentum is led by University of Minnesota entomologist Bob Koch, who is working to decrease environmental and economic impacts of soybean aphid management in the field. His team hopes to develop aphid-resistant soybean lines that can withstand Minnesota growing conditions, and to introduce more convenient pest scouting methods using drone technology.

“Support from MSR&PC and MITPPC has been essential to our continued research efforts related to improving management of soybean aphid,” Koch says. “This research has already resulted in commercialization of an aphid-resistant soybean variety, and research-based pest-management recommendations are actively disseminated to growers and agricultural professionals.”

Koch also contributes to Council-funded research on buckthorn, an invasive shrub that serves as overwintering host to soybean aphids. That project is led by forest ecologist Marcella Windmuller-Campione. She and her team have been exploring the relationship between buckthorn density and soybean aphids. Her interdisciplinary expertise brings a fresh perspective to an agricultural issue.

“We have been so thankful for the collaboration with farmers across the state,” Windmuller-Campione says. “There are still a lot of questions when it comes to this research, but this has been a welcoming experience.”

With the amount of research that continues to be done and ongoing checkoff support from farmer leaders, MITPPC is on track to be a hub for innovative, science-based solutions to the toughest invasive species problems.

”We look forward to continuing to develop our relationship with the staff,” Kee says. “We all are working towards the common goal of raising farmers’ bottom line.”

As researchers, soybean growers and their representative organizations work towards the common goal of invasive species management, they continue to benefit in new ways that support renewed growth.

“MITPPC was given an ambitious goal in coordinating invasive species research to protect agriculture, forests, wetlands and prairies in the state,” Venette says. “Minnesota Soybean is a natural partner for success. Our relationship provides us with vital feedback from growers affected by these pests as our researchers develop new tools that could help.”


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