Plant pathology researchers benefitting from new research space

Large linear irrigator applies water to a field of growing soybeans. A grove of trees can be seen off to the left in the background.
A large linear irrigator applies water to a soybean field at the Hinds Irrigation Farm north of Ames earlier this year. Researchers in the Department of Plant Pathology, Entomology and Microbiology have been using the site to conduct research related to diseases in corn and soybeans.

By Whitney Baxter

To the east of Ada Hayden Heritage Park, surrounded by a grove of trees along the South Skunk River, sits the Hinds Irrigation Farm, an area that has become a gold mine for plant pathology researchers.

Management of the 45-acre tract of land was turned over to the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Station last year. This past summer, plant pathology researchers used it to conduct 40 different projects.

Nick Howell, superintendent of the Horticulture Research Station, said some plant pathology studies had previously been conducted at the research station, but the irrigation system and lake were not large enough to provide the amount of water needed to accommodate many studies.

“It’s a good way to serve our plant pathology researchers because they need a place that allows for additional field studies that can all be irrigated with an adequate water supply,” Howell said of the Hinds farm.

In preparation for the influx of research projects, the irrigation system was replaced, and the well on the property was upgraded. A weather station also was added, which is part of the Mesonet – a collective group of weather stations.

Additionally, a large linear irrigator that covers half the property was brought to the Hinds farm from another Iowa State-owned research farm. The system can pump 300 gallons per minute onto the field. Howell said such an irrigation system offers the “gold standard” for plant pathology research because it can create saturated soils and keep foliage wet to promote the onset of plant diseases.

Daren Mueller, professor of plant pathology, entomology and microbiology, said one of his doctoral students is conducting a project that will benefit from the irrigation system. The student is looking at the environmental conditions needed in Iowa for frogeye leaf spot – the No. 1 foliar disease in soybeans – to become a problem.

Other projects include ones considering the root health of a soybean crop and how different disease management strategies can help combat diseases such as sudden death syndrome and Rhizoctonia root rot.

“Once the irrigation system is running, we will be able to better manipulate the environment to ensure we get good disease development,” Mueller said.

Alison Robertson, professor of plant pathology, entomology and microbiology, has expanded her corn trials at the Hinds plots. Her research looks at corn diseases, including tar spot, gray leaf spot and crown rot.

Future plans for the property include upgrading linear irrigator with GPS technology to allow targeted treatment in specific parts of the field, installing WiFi-ready sensors to monitor the irrigation plots and completing work on a building for the pump station.