Langdon Research Extension Center finishes new agronomy lab

The NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center (LREC) has recently expanded its facilities to include an all new agronomy lab.

Posted on 9/5/15

By Melissa Anderson

The construction of the lab began in August of 2014 and was recently completed with the finishing of the landscaping. The new lab began to be useful long before now, however.

“The agronomy lab was in such demand we began operating out of the facility prior to completion,” Randy Mehlhoff, Director at the LREC, said.

In 2009 the LREC celebrated 100 years of serving growers in northeast North Dakota. Much of the facilities at the location have not been modernized to meet the demands of crop production in the 21st century.

“With the good fortune of the North Dakota economy the past several years, Langdon has been able to tap into the budget surpluses and better position itself to serve regional growers for another 100 years,” Mehlhoff explained.

The LREC received funding for the new lab when the idea was brought forward to the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education during their 2009 budget hearings.

“This is a legislative mandated board required to assist North Dakota State University (NDSU) agriculture prepare its biennial budgets,”  Mehlhoff explained.

While not a high priority early on, the agronomy labs at Langdon, Carrington and Hettinger went into the 2013 legislative session as the number one priority for NDSU agriculture capital projects.

“All labs were fully funded from the legislature,” Mehlhoff said.

Along with the funding for the new lab, the legislature also provided operating funds and funds for a new research specialist position at Langdon.

The new research lab attracted a very talented research plant pathologist in Dr. Venkat Chapara.

“A main reason for his decision to locate and do his work in Langdon was the lure of our new research capabilities at Langdon,” Mehlhoff said.

The LREC overall agronomy research program conducts applied research on all crops grown not only in the Langdon area but in the northeast region of the state but does have a special emphasis on canola.

In the past 10 years the LREC has evolved into a leading crop disease applied research center focusing on crop diseases that affect crops in Cavalier County area.

“Unfortunately, the previous agronomy laboratory, which doubled as a seed storage warehouse, did not meet worker safety and protection standards,” Mehlhoff said.

The previous lab’s working area had too limited a space for the necessary procedures. The LREC staff needed room for experiment plot preparation and processing, sample cleaning, drying, weighing, analysis, and experimental sample storage.

“There was very limited space for plant pathology experiments needed to support crop disease research at Langdon,” Mehlhoff said.

With the new lab now in place, the ability to conduct a vast array of experiments necessary for the staff’s research is possible.

“Some we could do before, but most we could not,” Mehlhoff stated.

All of these experiments measure several different crop yield and crop quality parameters identified in the individual experiments. The research team at the LREC will also be able to provide better information regarding diseases in crops such as the percentage of incidence, the identification of diseases and if there are any new strains of a disease.

With harvest underway, fall is a very busy time in the new lab. The research team typically begins processing samples with the first harvest of the winter cereals and tries to finish the remaining samples by January.

“But there is plenty of work year round,” Mehlhoff said.

In late winter and early spring the LREC receives seed samples for the upcoming year’s experiments and must process the samples such as determining the seed weight and germination prior to the planting of the samples.

During the growing season this new lab will increase the LREC’s ability to support the growers in the area as the researchers will now have the capability of identifying crop pests brought in by area producers quickly.

The new lab will present more research method options for the staff at the LREC. This is because of the features of the lab and also because of the new high tech equipment purchased for the facility.

Some new equipment purchased include an incubator, research oven, autoclave, fume hoods, -850 C freezer, which is almost 1500 degrees below 0 in Fahrenheit, and more.

“The equipment alone totaled over $110,000,”Mehlhoff said.

The LREC’s current emphasis is on canola production and crop disease research. The new lab facility positions the research staff to better serve the area’s growers for years to come.

“Canola is still a new cash crop in our area and much more work needs to be done to effectively create the best management practices for canola production,” Mehlhoff stated.

Another concern is the impact that disease and pests have on the cash crop . According to Mehlhoff, disease and other pests seem to thrive in this region. The new facility and equipment will allow researchers at the LREC to be more responsive during the growing season.