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Marisol Berti - November 2018 RCA Researcher of the Month

NDSU forage and biomass crop production professor and researcher Marisol Berti is clear about why she’s at the university. “From the students to my partners in extension to my research activities, I just love my job!” This lifelong learner has found success as a forage and cover crops professor. “We are coming up with practical solutions to problems. That’s why our work has grown much in scope in just two years. People connect to what we’re doing because it makes sense and we’re making a difference in their agricultural practices.”

Along with the strong collaboration of other researchers, Berti is a practical scientist who has built an eloquent solution to the problem of protecting agriculture land from erosion. Her research team and other researchers (including extension specialists) have utilized more efficient planting strategies and figured out how to incorporate cover crops between the rows of regular crops. Employing a modified high clearance interseeder drill from Fargo’s Amity Technology, their research has successfully utilized the unplanted spaces by planting two rows of cover crops in-between crops as high as two feet.

“With the recent dry conditions this spring which have caused soil to blow away, our local farmers really appreciate the value of cover crops to protect against the problem of losing the topsoil,” she commented. “In addition, the recent low commodity prices have driven them to find new ways to reduce costs. Our work helps them accomplish both goals.”

By utilizing cover crops with agricultural value or those already targeted in crop rotation cycles, the process provides added value to the producer. The research team has targeted cereal rye for its winter hardiness and performance as cover crop in corn-soybean systems. Another hardy broadleaf, winter camelina, has also shown promise due to its unique ability among broadleaf cover crops to survive North Dakota winters. Berti points out that winter camelina flowers early in the spring, which makes it also beneficial to pollinators, and it has potential as a high quality oilseed crop. These plants, along with traditional alfalfa intercropped into corn, provide additional products for producers while ensuring there is no exposed ground in a field.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Berti grew up in a family who loved nature and the mountains. She fondly recalls gaining an appreciation for agriculture and the land from her Italian grandfather who grew much of his own food. After earning her BS in agronomy from the Catholic University of Chile, she decided that a large city wasn’t where she wanted to live. When she received a recommendation from one of her professors to intern with a seed company in Breckenridge, Minnesota, she gladly accepted and moved north. It was during this time that she met NDSU professor Albert Schneiter during a field day. Dr. Schneiter saw potential in Berti and recommended that she continue her education at NDSU where she earned her MS and later her Ph.D. in plant sciences. Berti is a lifelong learner who loves to study so much that she would work on another Ph.D. if she had the time. She’s the author or co-author of 60 peer-reviewed publications, 22 conference publications, two book chapters, and more than 150 presentations at conferences or symposiums.

Berti’s love for nature is obvious in her other hobby. When not researching or teaching, she paints nature scenes, flowers, and landscapes. She finds painting is effective in getting her active mind to relax. While her style is realistic, her fine attention to detail is symbolic of her scientific method and discipline. Her pictures are a set of virtual windows in her office to the many places she’s seen and captured. She alludes to this in commenting that while she has lab space at NDSU, she believes her true lab is in the field.

Berti is PI on a four year $3.7 million USDA-NIFA-AFRI grant which includes 12 researchers from four institutions and 11 graduate students (ten from NDSU). Within two years, the project has scaled quickly from NDSU test plots to thousands of acres in farmer’s fields as the adoption of cover crops and interseeding technologies has grown.

While Berti is quick to note that her work is a modification on existing systems and ideas, she’s most proud when she discusses the impact of her work on the people of the area. She gains much from her interactions with other researchers, extension professionals, and agricultural producers. “All that I learn, I pass on to the farmers and they give me back much as well,” she says. “They have great ideas – I love talking with them and learning what they need. In fact, the USDA-NIFA-AFRI project was born from farmers’ ideas in a cover crops workshop three years ago. They are practical and this is a simple solution which is why it works for them so well.”

We recognize Marisol Berti as our RCA Researcher of the month for November, 2018.

Source: RCA Update

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