2018 Faculty Update: Ashok Chanda
By: Ashok Chanda
Minnesota ranks number one in sugarbeet production in the nation. Over 50% of the U.S. sugarbeet production area is in Minnesota and North Dakota. Overall, 2017 was a great year for sugarbeet production in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, and in Southern Minnesota, even though growers were faced with delayed planting and muddy harvest conditions. Given the persistent nature of soil-borne diseases, Ashok Chanda (Assistant Professor and lab group leader) always encourages growers to accurately identify underlying causes for root rots they encounter in their fields. With funding from the Sugarbeet Research and Education Board, the Chanda Lab offers diagnostic services to growers for sugarbeet root diseases. The number and type of samples received each year is a good reflection of disease situations. Based on this assumption, low levels of disease occurred in 2017 (45 samples received) compared to higher levels the year before (132 samples received). Our lab also gains insights into occurrence and severity of disease in fields from year-to-year as we look at our diagnostic sample summaries.
The lab’s applied research is focused on development of integrated management strategies for Rhizoctonia and is conducted in partnership with Minn-Bak Farmer’s Cooperative in Wahpeton, ND, and the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, MN. This collaborative effort allows all partners to see what approach works best for a given growing area. Pratibha Sharma (M.S. student co-advised by Chanda and Dean Malvick) joined our lab in Fall 2017. She is investigating Rhizoctonia diseases of sugarbeet and soybean. The latter is commonly used in rotation with sugar beet. Pratibha’s work is focused on a unique combination of Rhizoctonia isolates for disease development and evaluation of various inoculation methods for use in screening soybean breeding lines for Rhizoctonia resistance in collaboration with Aaron Lorenz (Deptartment of Agronomy and Plant Genetics).
Jason Brantner, Senior Research Fellow in the Chanda Lab, has been completely immersed during the past year in directing student workers, maintaining numerous growth chambers, managing lab activities, and conducting field trials. Jason generously hosted another annual “Post-Planting Lunch Celebration” for the lab group at his house. Jeff Nielsen, Researcher 2, continues to keep up with weed control and other needed maintenance in field plots. He is also developing a disease samples database. Our group was fortunate to have excellent help for field, lab and growth chamber studies from our 2017 summer crew, Muira MacRae and Brandon Kasprick (high school students), Tim Cymbaluk (NDSU agronomy major), and from Amanda Monson (UMC agronomy major) during the fall and spring.
We are currently working on developing a soil DNA-based test for predicting the Rhizoctonia inoculum potential in sugarbeet fields. As a part of this project, we sampled 16 grower’s fields spanning the entire sugarbeet production area in MN and ND. In each of these fields, we rated sugarbeets for root disease and followed up with a soil-based growth chamber assay to correlate DNA values to the potential for seedling damping-off. In an on-going remote sensing project, our lab works collaboratively with Ian MacRae (Department of Entomology and NWROC), to characterize hyperspectral wavelengths of Rhizoctonia-infected and of healthy sugarbeets with the aim of being able to detect the disease before development of visual symptoms. The goal of this research is to help sugarbeet cooperatives to identify problematic fields with Rhizoctonia root disease using hyperspectral sensors mounted onto unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Harvested sugarbeets from disease-affected fields could then go directly to the processing facility, rather than to long-term storage, in order to avoid further degradation of the roots. In addition, this remote sensing technology could be combined with GIS-equipped precision planters to help growers implement site-specific Rhizoctonia management plans.