Neil C. Gudmestad was born in North Dakota and raised on a farm. He obtained a B.S. degree in biology and chemistry from Valley City State University (1974) and M.S. (1978) and Ph.D. (1982) degrees in plant pathology from North Dakota State University (NDSU). He joined the Department of Plant Pathology at NDSU as an assistant professor in 1985 and rose through the academic ranks. In a testament to Gudmestad’s productivity, he was named an inaugural University Distinguished Professor by NDSU in 2007 and, to date, only 10 faculty have been named a University Distinguished Professor at NDSU.
In January 2015, Gudmestad was named the Neil C. Gudmestad Endowed Chair of Potato Pathology. The endowed chair position was created from an endowment established by contributions from potato growers, processors, agricultural chemical manufacturers, and other allied industries from 13 states. More than $4.2 million was raised, which received a 50% match from the North Dakota Higher Education Challenge Fund, making the total endowment worth $6.3 million. The Neil C. Gudmestad Endowed Chair is the first fully endowed faculty position at NDSU, and it is the first time a sitting faculty member has had a position named in their honor.
Gudmestad’s 30-year research career at NDSU has focused on pathogen biology and diversity and on the management of potato diseases. His work has advanced the science of plant pathology and has greatly benefitted the agricultural sector he serves. Since all commercially acceptable potato cultivars are susceptible to numerous diseases, the potato industry must have safe, effective, and sustainable tools for disease management to maximize profitability and to provide a safe and high-quality product for consumers. Gudmestad has dedicated his career to developing these tools through his research program and, despite possessing no extension appointment, has spent countless hours teaching potato producers and processors how to manage diseases, making up to 25 invited grower presentations annually in multiple states. This clearly demonstrates the importance and relevance of his research to the potato industry.
The comprehensiveness of Gudmestad’s research program is most impressive. He has made significant contributions on diseases caused by ten fungi or fungal-like pathogens, four viruses, and three bacteria. The diseases he researches affect the potato plant from seed tuber to storage. All of his efforts are aimed at solving real-world problems facing the potato industry. This “one foot in the furrow” philosophy—making certain that his science finds solutions to practical problems—has guided Gudmestad’s research throughout his career.
As a new assistant professor, Gudmestad was faced with a serious outbreak of bacterial ring rot in North Dakota potatoes. There is zero tolerance for the disease in the seed industry, and ring rot threatened the very survival of multiple commercial operations. His work on detection and management of the pathogen proved critical for producers in North Dakota and ultimately the nation. Ring rot continues to be a serious problem in the United States, and Gudmestad maintains a research program developing additional disease management strategies, including the improvement of pathogen detection.
Potato tubers are used to plant commercial fields, and many potato pathogens are disseminated in seed tubers. This makes detection of tuber-borne pathogens critical to the management of all potato diseases. Gudmestad has spent much of his career developing methods to detect potato pathogens and fungicide resistance mutations in a number of fungal pathogens of several important crop species.
Gudmestad has worked in the area of fungicide resistance for more than 20 years, and he is recognized as an authority on the subject. His first proceedings on fungicide resistance were published in 1992. Among his many notable contributions in the area, Gudmestad was the first to show that the F129L resistance mutation had a differential effect on the various commercial fungicides in the QoI class. This finding had clear implications for fungicide efficacy and thus for both producers and agrichemical companies. His group published the first high-resolution melting curve analysis method to detect this mutation. Gudmestad’s group is currently working on the mutations involved in the development of fungicide resistance of potato leaf spot fungi to SDHI chemistries.
Gudmestad has focused recent efforts on invasive potato pathogens, such as ‘Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum’, cause of zebra chip, and the Potato mop top virus. Gudmestad was a codirector of a major USDA-NIFA-SCRI project that garnered considerable national recognition for their zebra chip research, including the IPM Team Award from the Entomological Society of America in 2012 and the 2014 Partnership Award from USDA-NIFA, which recognizes “Mission Integration of Research, Education, and Extension”.
Gudmestad is an author of 120 refereed journal articles and 16 peer-reviewed book chapters. He has published in excess of 200 other edited technical publications and proceedings, including web-based media. He is a frequent invitee to speak at national and international meetings and symposia
Gudmestad has been active in the training of graduate students. He has been the major professor or comajor professor of 20 M.S. and Ph.D. students who have completed their degrees; many have gone on to successful careers in academia, industry, and government. One of his Ph.D. students currently serves as a USDA National Program Leader for plant pathology.
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