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Dr. Richard Frohberg Receives NDSU Harvest Bowl Agribusiness Award

Before the 40th annual NDSU Harvest Bowl awards program, Dr. Richard Frohberg reflected on his career as the third hard red spring wheat breeder in NDSU’s history, and the biggest challenges he faced during those years.

Dr. Richard Frohberg received the Agribusiness Award at the 40th annual North Dakota State University Harvest Bowl awards program on November 8, 2013.  During his 36 years researching and leading the hard red spring wheat breeding program, 25 varieties were released with 9 more released after his retirement. He received other honors during his career including the Alpha Zeta Fraternity Outstanding Agriculturist of the Year in 1987, the Distinguished Service Award from the North Dakota Crop Improvement and Seed Association in 1992, the NDSU Faculty Economic Development Award in 1993, the Excellence in Research Award, Senior Faculty from the NDSU College of Agriculture in 1995, the Honorary Kernel from the North Dakota Grain Growers in 1999, the NDSU Research Foundation Fred L. Waldron Award in 2000 and the Greater North Dakota Association Agricultural Award in 2001. He also was inducted into the North Dakota Winter Show Ag Hall of Fame in 2006.

Before the Harvest Bowl celebration, Frohberg walked through campus and reminisced about the years he worked in the Agronomy/Plant Sciences Department. He talked about the challenges he faced during his career, the exceptional people and NDSU Research Extension Centers with whom he worked and collaborated and the support and academic freedom he received from department and campus administrators to move forward with his significant body of work.  He told of slight trepidation the day NDSU President Dr. Dean Bresciani called and invited him to his office. When he found that the purpose of the invitation was to inform him that he would receive the Agribusiness Award, he laughed and said, “I never expected that.”  Dr. Frohberg expressed great appreciation for the honor and gratitude towards everyone with whom he worked during his time at NDSU.

The biggest challenge of Frohberg’s career occurred during the last decade of his tenure.  After a severe drought in the late 1980s, Fusarium headblight (FHB) began causing problems in the North Dakota wheat crop. In 1992, Extension cereal grains pathologist Dr. Marcia McMullen noticed FHB in Minnesota and was alarmed enough to tell Dr. Robert Stack, who was the wheat plant pathologist, and Frohberg, “We have to do something about this.” Coincidentally, Frohberg and Stack had already begun working to cross Chinese germplasm (‘Sumai 3’) with North Dakota lines. They received the germplasm through collaboration with CIMMYT (http://www.cimmyt.org/en/) in 1986 and by 1992 were growing the second cycle of the crosses at the NDSU Agronomy Seed Farm at Casselton, ND. Frohberg credits Stack with “pushing the research utilizing ‘Sumai 3’ before significant disease issues had appeared.” The result was the release of the FHB resistant variety ‘Alsen’ in 2000. The significance of that release was huge. Dr. Mohamed Mergoum, the current NDSU hard red spring wheat breeder, says that “releasing ‘Alsen’ saved the wheat crop in North Dakota.”

The collaboration with CIMMYT also led to the formation of the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative in 1997, which Dr. Mergoum calls “a model for a successful USDA-funded project to solve a major threat such as FHB and save a major crop in the U.S. and worldwide.”  http://www.scabusa.org/pdfs/USWBSI-Article_HRS-Success_1-6-14.pdf

Frohberg also reflected on how much he appreciates the collaborative nature of working at NDSU and with North Dakota growers. He said that Dr. Stack in Plant Pathology and Dr. Bert D’Appolonia in Cereal Science, as well as numerous colleagues in the Plant Sciences Department and researchers at the USDA and NDSU Research Extension Centers across the state, all contributed greatly to the success of the hard red spring wheat breeding program. He also praises the support provided by the ND State Legislature, the Spring Wheat Quality Council and grower organizations, such as the ND County Crop Improvement Association and the ND Wheat Commission.  

When Frohberg finished the campus tour, his final comments complimented the administration in the Agronomy/Plant Sciences Department at NDSU, which he says gave him academic freedom to focus on supervising the wheat breeding program.  He said, “I like wheat breeding,” and was able to do just that for 36 years.

Author: Karen Hertsgaard, 701-231-5384, karen.hertsgaard@ndsu.edu
Editor: Kamie Beeson, 701-231-7123, kamie.a.beeson@ndsu.edu

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