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NDSU researcher receives grant for forage sorghum project

Marisol Berti, professor of plant sciences, recently was awarded a USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - North Central Sun Grant project to study cold-tolerance in forage sorghum with the aim of earlier planting. Berti leads the Forages and Biomass Crop Production project in NDSU’s Department of Plant Sciences.

A goal of Berti’s project is to discover crops that yield high biomass for the purpose of bioenergy production. She focused on forage sorghum, which she says is ideal for biomass and bioenergy research. Some of the characteristics that distinguish forage sorghum are: it surpasses all other crops for biomass yield, even in areas with low water availability; it can be used for second generation biofuel production from sugars extracted from complex carbohydrates in the biomass; and it can be used as a double- and relay-crop with camelina, a winter oilseed for biofuels. Forage sorghum production also benefits the ecosystem by improving soil health, preventing soil erosion and increasing biodiversity.

Another area of research in Berti’s project centers on using cover crops and camelina in double-, relay- or intercropping systems in corn, soybean or wheat production in the northern Great Plains and upper Midwest.

In April, she was awarded a multi-state, multi-researcher USDA-NIFA Coordinated Agricultural Project, known as CAP, grant in the Global Food Security Program. The aim of the grant is to increase the use of cover crops in the upper Great Plains to reduce soil erosion. She is the principal investigator and director of the project titled “A Novel Management Approach to Increase Productivity, Resilience, and Long-Term Sustainability in Cropping Systems in the Midwest.”

Thirteen researchers from NDSU, the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and the USDA-Agriculture Research Service Research Center in Morris, Minnesota, are participating in the two-year initial $2.1 million CAP grant. Other NDSU researchers include David Franzen, professor of soil sciences; Burton Johnson, professor of plant sciences; David Ripplinger, assistant professor of agribusiness and applied sciences; Hans Kandel, professor of plant sciences; Abbey Wick, assistant professor of soil sciences; Adnan Akyuz, professor and state climatologist; Joel Ransom, professor of plant sciences; and John Nowatzki, NDSU Department of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering Department.

Berti’s forage production research centers on best management practices including variety selection, and the effect of planting and harvest dates on forage quality in alfalfa and other perennial and annual forages. Data such as yield, quality, and alfalfa stand density is collected from fall harvested alfalfa and alfalfa-grass mixtures. The research team also focuses on developing a method to appraise alfalfa yield losses for use by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency Multi-Peril Insurance programs.

Berti began her work at NDSU in 2009 after 12 years at the Universidad de Concepción in Chillán, Chile. She earned her bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, and her master’s degree in crop production and doctorate in plant sciences from NDSU. Her vita includes 55 peer-reviewed publications, three book chapters, 20 proceedings publications and 120 conference and symposium presentations.

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