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Berti Leads Forages and Biomass Crop Production Project

Marisol Berti
Marisol Berti
Berti photo
Dr. Marisol Berti leads the Forages and Biomass Crop Production project in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University. The goals of the NDSU Forages and Biomass Crop Production project are 1) to evaluate and improve current forage production practices, 2) to evaluate new and traditional crops as sources of biomass for bioenergy production, and 3) to increase the use of cover crops in current cropping systems in North Dakota.

November 7, 2016

Dr. Marisol Berti leads the Forages and Biomass Crop Production project in the Department of Plant Sciences at North Dakota State University.

Berti started her work at NDSU in 2009 after 12 years at the Universidad de Concepción in Chillán, Chile. She received her B.S. in Agronomy in 1990 from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, her M.S. in Crop Production in 1993, and Ph.D. in Plant Sciences in 2007, both from NDSU. Her research while in Chile was in production and management of oilseeds, medicinal, and nutraceutical plants. She was awarded over $2 million in grants while working at the University of Concepcion.

The goals of the NDSU Forages and Biomass Crop Production project are 1) to evaluate and improve current forage production practices, 2) to evaluate new and traditional crops as sources of biomass for bioenergy production, and 3) to increase the use of cover crops in current cropping systems in North Dakota.

Forage Production

Berti’s forage production research work 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 United States Department of Agriculture-Risk Management Agency (USDA-RMA) Multi-Peril Insurance programs.

Berti is well respected by producers and she spends considerable time presenting information at field days and research update meetings, as well as answering specific production questions throughout all seasons. Her recent (October 4, 2016) Cover Crop Field Day workshop was well attended despite cold, wet weather.

The project forage research is published at

Biomass for Bioenergy Production

The second goal of Berti’s project is to discover crops that yield high biomass for the purpose of bioenergy production. After evaluating numerous perennial grasses, she decided to focus on forage sorghum, which she says is ideal for biomass and bioenergy research. Some of the characteristics that distinguish forage sorghum for biomass research are that 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.

Recently, Berti was awarded a USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA-AFRI) - North Central Sun Grant project to study cold-tolerance in forage sorghum with the aim of earlier planting. For more information on this grant see

Berti’s interest and research in biomass/bioenergy production has led her to teach students about sustainable and renewable energies by leading PLSC 379/779, a Study Abroad Plant Sciences course titled “Sustainable Agriculture and Renewable Energies in Europe”. Over three years (2013, 2015 and 2016) she led and taught a total of 36 NDSU students in Central Europe and Scandinavia. The groups visited universities, research centers, farms, and energy and farming industries in seven countries. 

Students have praised the course, saying that the course was a “fantastic learning experience and provided a great opportunity to look at a vast array of bioenergy crops not commonly seen in the United States.” Students also said they “appreciated learning about European agriculture and gained a new perspective on agriculture and life.” The next course will be offered in the summer of 2018. For information on past courses, see

Cover Crops

The third 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 of 2016, Berti was awarded a multi-state, multi-researcher USDA-NIFA Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) grant in the Global Food Security Program. The goal of the CAP grant is to increase the use of cover crops in the upper Great Plains to reduce soil erosion. She wrote and submitted this competitive proposal and is the Principal Investigator/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 the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, the USDA-Agriculture Research Service Research Center in Morris, MN, and NDSU are participating in the two-year initial $2.1 million grant.  An additional $1.6 million will be awarded in 2018 for an additional two years of the study.

Berti explains the importance of this project, saying:

The use of cover crops, common in the eastern and central Corn Belt, are uncommon in corn-soybean systems in the Upper Midwest and northern Great Plains due to the short growing season and extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation within and across growing seasons. Lack of winter soil cover increases soil organic matter and nutrient losses, resulting in decreased crop productivity and resiliency. For these reasons, larger amounts of agricultural inputs are required to maintain or increase yields. Therefore, there is a critical need to alter current cropping systems in the upper Midwest and northern Great Plains by incorporating technologies to improve long-term productivity while enhancing ecosystem services.  The objectives of this project include: i) improving management of existing cropping systems for resilience and increased productivity by innovative seeding and nutrient management of cover crops; ii) improving land use efficiency in current cropping systems through the inclusion of winter camelina and field pennycress as cover/cash crops in double or relay-cropping, and improving corn-alfalfa productivity with intercropping; and iii) increasing awareness and adoption of sustainable management practices in our region. Our project seeks to renovate current cropping systems to improve sustainability of agricultural production.

Co-Investigators for the CAP project are David Franzen, Professor, Extension Soil Fertility, Department of Soil Sciences, NDSU; Burton Johnson, Professor, Oilseeds and New Crops Production Research, Department of Plant Sciences, NDSU; David Ripplinger, Assistant Professor, Department of Agribusiness and Applied Sciences, NDSU; Hans Kandel, Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, NDSU; Abbey Wick, Assistant Professor, Department of Soil Sciences, NDSU; Adnan Akyuz, Professor and State Climatologist, North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, ND Agricultural Experiment Station; Joel Ransom, Professor, Extension Wheat and Corn, Department of Plant Sciences, NDSU; John Nowatzki, M.S., Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering Department, NDSU; Russ Gesch, Research Plant Physiologist and Frank Forcella, Research Agronomist, USDA-ARS, North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, Morris, MN; M. Scott Wells, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota; Andrew Lenssen, Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University; and Kenneth Moore, Professor, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University.

For more information on this grant, see and

Teaching and Professional Affiliations

Besides PLSC 379/779, Berti teaches PLSC 320 Principles of Forage Production, PLSC 350 Sugarbeet Production and PLSC 711 Professional Development II. She currently advises five graduate students. Dulan Samarappuli is completing his Ph.D. research on the sustainability and effects of different management practices on various cropping systems including, maize, sorghum and soybeans. His thesis is titled “Sustainable cropping systems for food, feed, and energy production in Northern Great Plains region”. Osvaldo Teuber also is completing his Ph.D. research to determine best management practices for growing brassicas and cover crops. His thesis title is “Agronomic studies of forage brassicas and cover crops in North Dakota”. Johanna Lukaschewsky is completing her M.S. research evaluating the productivity and profitability of corn-alfalfa intercropping systems. Her thesis is titled “Productive and economic analysis of corn and alfalfa intercropping”. Two students, Alan Peterson (M.S.) and Sergio Cabello (Ph.D.), have just started work on their degrees. Also, Berti has in her team Dr. Maciej Kazula, a post-doctoral associate who focuses on intercropping corn and alfalfa research for the CAP project, and two visiting scientists, Dr. Wenting Yang from China, and Carlos Ciria, doctoral student from Spain.  

Berti is active in many professional organizations. She has been a board member of the Midwest Forage Association since 2009, was chair of the C-6 Forage and Grazinglands Division in the Crops Science Society of America in 2015, and is a member of the Midwest Cover Crop Council (MCCC) Board. She serves on the North Central-221 cover crops committee of the MCCC, collecting all state cover crop research to write, edit and publish the annual North Dakota cover crops report. She also is a member of the scientific committee of the European Biomass Conference (EUBIA) that is held in different European cities every year in June. She is president of the Association for the Advancement of Industrial Crops (AAIC) and planned their annual meeting, which was held Sept. 24-28, 2016 in Rochester, NY ( Additionally, she has been editor-in-chief of Industrial Crops and Products, from Elsevier ( editorial, since 2012.

Dr. Berti’s publication record includes 55 peer-reviewed publications, three book chapters, 20 proceedings publications, and 120 conference and symposium presentations. Through her membership in the scientific committee of the EUBIA, she collaborates and co-publishes with researchers from Italy, Portugal, Greece, and Austria.

In 2014, Dr. Berti received the Larson/Yaggie Excellence in Research Award from the NDSU College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources. She also was elected president of the NDSU chapter of Gamma Sigma Delta (Honor Society of Agriculture) for the 2014-2016 term.

Source: Marisol Berti, 701-231-6110,
Author: Karen Hertsgaard, 701-231-5384,
Editor: Kamie Beeson, 701-231-7123.

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