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DSU, Mustang Seeds partner for agriculture research project

Jenni Giles and Conner Tordsen collect soil samples in a farmer’s field as part of research on alfalfa disease. Photo courtesy DSU

MADISON, S.D., June 18, 2020– Dr. Andrew Sathoff, assistant professor of biology, is collaborating with Mustang Seeds to research alfalfa disease (Aphanomyces root rot) in South Dakota.

“Alfalfa is the third most valuable crop in the U.S.,” Sathoff said. “South Dakota plants the second most acres of alfalfa in the U.S., yet no one is currently studying alfalfa in the state.”

Mustang Seeds, a Madison, South Dakota business that sells small grain seed to area farmers, agreed with the importance of research. “South Dakota is one of the leading producers of alfalfa in the nation,” said Jason DeVaney, product manager of small grains at Mustang Seeds. “Having local research will assist in keeping the best quality tons to be able to offer to the market.”

Sathoff studied alfalfa while earning his Ph.D. at University of Minnesota. Once he arrived at DSU and learned no one was researching it in South Dakota, he decided to continue focusing on the crop. He and two of his students, Jenni Giles and Conner Tordsen, are spending the summer collecting samples of alfalfa and soil from fields throughout eastern South Dakota.

Tordsen, a junior biology major from Fairmont, Minn. was inspired to participate in the research after taking classes with Sathoff.

“He was a fun teacher and made a lot of things interesting, and it was nice to have a summer job related to our field of research,” Tordsen said. Giles, a junior biology major from Madison, S.D., felt the same.

The duo has been collecting soil samples on farmers’ properties throughout eastern South Dakota to bring back to the lab and study.

“We go all over the field and get samples from different parts of it,” Giles said.

They bring the soil samples back to campus to store in refrigerators until it’s time to plant.

They are planting seed from the USDA and Mustang Seeds, and will then place the sample in growth chambers, which have climate control and lights, Sathoff explained. The lights will be on for 16 hours a day to mimic a long day and the plants will remain in the chamber for 21 days.

“Once they’ve grown for 21 days, we’re going to score them for disease,” Sathoff said. “From the results of how the plants grow you can see exactly what’s in the soil.”

The research group will share these results with Mustang, and with the farmers they collected soil from, “so they’ll get recommendations on what seed to plant,” Sathoff said.

“Mustang Seeds sees the importance of bringing localized research to our alfalfa lineup to help the customers with the choices on their fields,” DeVaney said.

In addition to sharing the research with Mustang Seeds, they hope to be able to publish several papers based on the data they gather. Giles and Tordsen will be first authors on any papers they write.

–Dakota State University


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