Always Learning, Always Growing: NDSU, R.D. Offutt Farms Mark 25th Year of Research Partnership

Dr. Julie Pasche remembers when she started working at NDSU in 1995, and even where her first field assignments occurred. She was working with Dr. Neil Gudmestad at an R.D. Offutt Farms (RDO) partner farm in Browerville, Minn., tackling soil-borne potato diseases like pink rot and black dot through in-field research trials. Gudmestad, namesake of NDSU’s Neil C. Gudmestad Endowed Chair, started as a faculty member in 1985.

Together, Gudmestad and Pasche worked for years on potato research, publishing their first scientific paper in 1996, documenting a trial at an RDO Farm. Over the course of the next 25 years, nine more scientific journal entries have been published, along with countless offshoot articles in grower publications and presentations given to industry members, all to share research findings and provide guidance to potato growers.

“There’s always going to be something to learn about growing potatoes and we are always in pursuit of improvement,” Pasche said.

Nick David, RDO Farms Midwest Regional Agronomist, said NDSU has undertaken a wide variety of potato research, ranging from studying the most effective time to plant and harvest, to researching fungicide resistance and crop protectant efficacy, to advancing organic fertilizer and new potato varieties.

“We are very grateful to have a seat at the table with NDSU and for the partnership,” David said. “Sometimes, part of the battle is finding out what doesn’t work. But sometimes, research findings help us make changes to produce a more environmentally friendly and economically sustainable potato – and that’s our goal.”

A long history

While 2021 is the 25th anniversary of the RDO-NDSU relationship, Gudmestad’s relationship with the farms goes back for more than 40 years. He first connected with RDO Farms in 1981, when agronomist Dale Stevens noticed potatoes beginning to show signs of ring rot, a condition with the potential to cause economic devastation. Stevens hired Gudmestad to conduct research and soon plots were established in the commercial fields to research soil-borne potato diseases.

NDSU research plots on RDO fields have been driving improvements in the industry for 25 years.

Gudmestad remembers one of the first and most impactful RDO research trials conducted in 1986-1987, where NDSU studied soil types and the best time to apply crop protectants to prevent pink rot, another soil-borne disease that affects potato yield.

“RDO Farms was the original company to have the benefit of the research findings, but it was later shared nationally and internationally where growers were trying to control pink rot,” Gudmestad said. “The research provided guidance on the best time for the first application, and today, growers still use those research findings.”

Other key findings over the years include the advantages of growing seed in-house to control the health of the commercial product and identifying the best soil temperature to apply fungicides that prevent verticillium wilt.

“RDO Farms never restricted our ability to publish the data we gleaned from our research trials,” Gudmestad said. “It’s important that growers are continually asking questions about how to grow potatoes better and RDO Farms continues to pose interesting challenges.”

RDO Farms is not the only entity funding NDSU’s potato research. The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association and the Minnesota Area II Potato Growers Council fund research projects to benefit potato producers and work heavily with growers in the region on strategic projects.

The research continues

When Dr. Gudmestad officially retired from NDSU, the potato pathology work continues through the Gudmestad Endowed Chair under Dr. Julie Pasche. Dr. Gary Secor (Plant Pathology), Dr. Andy Robinson and Dr. Susie Thompson (Plant Sciences), along with 10-12 students, continue the work and partnership with RDO. In 2021, NDSU has multiple trials underway at RDO farms, which include:

  • Nitrogen efficiency with new potato variety (RDO Perham Farm – Dr. Robinson)
  • Planting date optimization to prevent Verticillium wilt (RDO Park Rapids, Perham Farms – Dr. Pasche and Dr. Robinson)
  • Verticillium wilt resistance screening (RDO Park Rapids Farm – Dr. Thompson)
  • Turkey manure effectiveness alone and with ESN on tuber yield (RDO Perham Farm – Dr. Robinson)
  • Polymer coated ammonium sulfate (RDO Perham Farm – Dr. Robinson)
  • Calcium application (RDO Perham Farm – Dr. Robinson)
  • Weed control study for most effective herbicide, increase in yield (RDO Wadena Farm – Dr. Robinson)
  • Seed lot trials for growers (RDO Park Rapids, Becker Farms – Dr. Robinson)
  • Late blight spore detection (throughout MN and ND RDO Farms – Dr. Robinson and Dr. Pasche)
  • Frozen processing trial (RDO Park Rapids Farm – Dr. Thompson)
  • Common scab resistance screening (RDO Park Rapids Farm – Dr. Thompson)
  • Pink rot management (RDO Park Rapids Farm – Dr. Pasche)
  • Vine kill timing for Verticillium wilt management (RDO Park Rapids Farm – Dr. Pasche)
  • Verticillium wilt management – chemical and biological products (RDO Park Rapids Farm – Dr. Pasche)
The goal of the research partnership between NDSU and RDO has always been to grow potatoes in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way that produces a great yield.

Dr. Andy Robinson said that research is very important to the potato industry.

“Good research leads to more research. You may answer one question, but that will lead to more questions,” Robinson said. “We are always trying to produce potatoes in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly manner to produce a sufficient crop to feed the world.”

Agronomist Nick David said NDSU is one of several universities conducting potato research. RDO routinely partners with the University of Minnesota, which is spearheading the Potato Soil Health Project under the direction of Dr. Carl Rosen, along with Colorado State University, Michigan State University, Montana State University, Oregon State University, University of Idaho, University of Maine, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Washington State University. RDO Farms also actively partners on research projects with Central Lakes College in Staples, Minn.

“The potato world is relatively small and most of us in the industry and academia are aware of ongoing research efforts and readily share results,” David said. “We are in constant communication and learn from one another.”