The Minnesota Crop Improvement Association recognized University of Minnesota scientist Don Wyse with its highest honor, the Achievement in Crop Improvement Award, during a Jan. 13 virtual annual meeting.
Wyse, a professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics in St. Paul, teaches and conducts research on invasive plant management, cropping system development, plant breeding and new crop development. His research efforts focus on perennial crops, cover crops and prairie polycultures. Active in numerous organizations that emphasize soil health and water quality, he also organized and leads the Forever Green Initiative that is developing new winter annual and perennial crops for farmers.
Wyse had just completed his doctoral work at Michigan State University when he accepted a weed science research and teaching position at U-MN in June 1974, a position that had been lobbied for by MCIA and the Northern Minnesota Grass Seed Industry. The primary research focus of his position at the time was on two perennial weeds, quackgrass and Canada thistle. However, early discussions with MCIA personnel and grass seed producers redirected his research program on the development and implementation of quackgrass management to support the production of certified quackgrass-free seed of turf and forage grass species.
“When I started my career, quackgrass was endemic throughout Minnesota, and was the primary deterrent to the production of high-quality grass seed of turf [Kentucky bluegrass] and forage [timothy] species that were under production in the region at that time,” Wyse recalls. “Grass seed not certified to be free of quackgrass could not be sold for sowing purposes, which was a very costly potential economic loss to grass seed producers. This is where my interaction with MCIA started, in a collaborative working relationship, along with the grass seed producers and seed processors in Roseau and Lake of the Woods counties.”
Wyse is quick to give credit to a long list of individuals whom he has worked with over the years on weed control and seed improvement. Major contributions include:
Roundup control on quackgrass. The herbicide came out in fall 1974 and was used by grass seed growers to control quackgrass. Back then, Roundup was about $30 per acre — an expensive input for growers. Producers tried to reduce the cost of Roundup by reducing the application rate, but this resulted in a dramatic reduction in quackgrass control. So, Wyse and other Roseau-area partners worked on a project to cut the cost of the Roundup treatment by 50% without a corresponding reduction in quackgrass control.
“We discovered that if the water carrier rate was cut by 50%, when the herbicide rate was reduced by 50%, the control remained equal to the full herbicide rate with the standard carrier rate,” Wyse says. “The Roundup label was modified by Monsanto to reflect this discovery, which saved grass seed producers and other farmers a lot of money over the years.”
Rolling on weed control. Height differences between quackgrass and newly seeded Kentucky bluegrass fields made weed control difficult. Wyse and colleagues developed and tested several glyphosate applicators. That evolved into developing a company that would produce roller applicators and make them commercially available to producers across the country.
Moving seed production, discovering modes of action. As they learned to selectively control quackgrass, Wyse and other researchers saw opportunities open to move seed production into the Roseau and Lake of the Woods region, as well as to develop new seed varieties. For example, fescues are now grown there.
Wyse and herbicide biochemistry colleagues were the first research team in the world to discover the mode-of-action of the FOP and DIM herbicide families, which led to the development of Poast-tolerant field corn and sweet corn varieties that were marketed by Pioneer Hybrid, Dekalb and PepsiCo. Another major outcome from this research was the development of Assure II-tolerant perennial ryegrass, which led to the development of the U-MN’s perennial ryegrass breeding program.
The evolution of Forever Green. The successful development of the grass seed industry in the Roseau and Lake of the Woods region over the past 70 years has served as a model for the development of similar collaborative programs in other regions of the state, Wyse says. Case in point: the Forever Green Initiative.
“The statewide program is now focused on the development of 15 new perennial and winter annual crops that can be incorporated into Minnesota’s agriculture system to produce ecosystem services and new economic opportunities for producers and rural communities,” Wyse says. MCIA, several grass seed producers and seed processors have been instrumental in supporting the development of this initiative, which includes the development of one of the first Forever Green crops, Kernza. The U-MN recently released MN-Clearwater, which is available for production by Minnesota grain and seed producers.
For additional information on the Forever Green Initiative, visit the Forever Green website, forevergreen.umn.edu.
The Farmer is a longtime sponsor of MCIA’s Achievement in Crop Improvement Award.
More award recipients
MCIA also recognized additional contributors to the seed industry in 2021. Receiving the Premier Seed Grower Award were Clyde Kringlen, West Central Ag Services, Mahnomen; Dennis and Dean Terning, Terning Seeds Inc., Cokato; and Bob Ehlers, Red River Marketing Co., Elbow Lake.
Kringlen has been associated with certified seed since he and his father purchased McIntosh Farm Service in 1981. Kringlen also worked for Triangle Ag and currently manages wheat seed production for West Central Ag Services.
Dean and Dennis Terning were raised in a seed corn producing family. They also grew and conditioned certified seed of small grains and soybeans. In 1985, they began producing hybrid seed corn for their retail brand, Terning Seeds. Today, they can produce, harvest and dry seed corn from more than 6,000 acres.
Ehlers has been a certified seed producer for 45 years. Today, he owns and operates Red River Marketing Co. Ehlers is an active MCIA member, serving as vice chair of the board of directors.
Receiving the Honorary Seed Grower Award were Donn Vellekson, University of Minnesota research technician based in Roseau, and Randy Krzmarzick, MCIA field inspector in Sleepy Eye.
Vellekson, research scientist, has devoted his career to turf grass and forage seed production. Today, at the Magnusson Research Farm near Roseau, perennial ryegrass is his primary focus.
Krzmarzick has been an MCIA field inspector for 22 years. He has walked thousands of acres across southwest Minnesota inspecting fields of oats, wheat, soybeans and occasionally corn.