Alaska is a frontier. As in other circumpolar regions, food security is an important issue. McBeath assumed the responsibility to develop environmentally-responsible agriculture in Alaska. Because of limitations in the literature, she conducted disease surveys on all plants, studying symptom expressions under high latitude environmental conditions, and she paid special attention to negative data and absence of diseases. Her contributions include: 1) discovered and developed an efficacious biological control agent for cold soils, 2) developed a science-based, seed potato disease certification system relying entirely on intensive field sampling and laboratory tests, 3) encouraging Alaska farmers to produce lab-tested disease-free seed potatoes, 4) acquiring phytosanitary clearances and market access to China and Taiwan, and 5) establishing the ‘Arctic Food Security Student Competition’ (the theme is environmentally-smart food production systems) to raise awareness and stimulate innovation and creativity.
In the early 1980s, responding to adverse impacts of chemical pesticides on cold soils, McBeath discovered an effective and environmentally benign means of control using Trichoderma atroviride, a unique beneficial fungus. This research resulted in commercial development of Plant Helper, which is now used in the US and foreign countries as an effective control of snow mold and economically important destructive fungi /plant diseases on turfgrass, ginseng and other crops.
Realizing that symptoms of bacteria ring rot (BRR) and viruses are frequently “masked” under the long-photoperiod and cool environment, McBeath addressed an outbreak of BRR of potato in 1988 by developing a stringent field sampling, inspection and diagnostic system. It differs from the standard “eyeballing” method and can accurately and efficiently detect BRR, viruses, phytoplasma and other diseases in potatoes. Her program gave growers an accurate assessment of diseases in seed lots and provided them tools to eradicate diseased potatoes from their farms. She encouraged growers to take advantage of Alaska’s geographic isolation (inducing relatively pristine growing conditions) by exporting potatoes and facilitated exports by identifying markets. Presently, Alaska lab-tested, disease-free seed potatoes are the only foreign seed potatoes granted entry into China and Taiwan, together the world’s largest seed potato market. Her research conducted in China on potato viral and phytoplasma diseases helps protect Alaska lab-tested disease-free seed potatoes from discriminatory non-tariff trade barriers in China.
Climate change in the Arctic has a positive impact on plants (pathogens and pests also), but agriculture is not part of traditional Native culture. Convinced that “growing” is the key to solving the food security issue, and needs to be added to traditional food systems of hunting, fishing and gathering, McBeath in 2015 initiated the Food Security in the Arctic Student Competition, focusing on environmentally-smart food production systems. Objectives were to raise student (and through them, community) awareness on issues of food security, food safety, environmental protection, biological control and preservation of biodiversity. In addition to media outreach and an essay contest, this competition included an engineering design contest for energy efficient, large scale food storage and growing facilities, which are challenges shared by all Arctic communities (www.uaf.edu/snare/fsa)
McBeath excels in her professional and public service activities internationally and within the state of Alaska. She formed critical alliances between Alaska and China/Taiwan markets. Since the early 1990s, she has tirelessly educated Alaska policy makers, producers, and the public on plant pathology principles and the necessity for producing disease free crops for Alaska and export. McBeath’s expertise on plant/potato diseases, knowledge in international trade of agricultural products and skill in negotiation were recognized by USDA-APHIS-PPQ, USDA-Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS). She has been appointed by USDA secretaries (2002-2012) to serve on the Advisory Committee on Emerging Markets and was the only scientist on this body. She also serves on the Arctic One Health, a State Department/Arctic Council Project. Her expertise has also been recognized in China and Taiwan. She has received the following awards and recognitions for outstanding public service: Usibelli Distinguished Professor Award, Chamber of Commerce UAF Employee Award, and the UAF College Town-Gown Award. She was the first academician to receive a U. S. State Department Embassy Science Fellowship, and to serve as a US delegate for the US/CHINA Bilateral Technical talks on agricultural products. McBeath’s working knowledge and insights into China’s food production and consumption have accumulated as lead author of the book entitled Environmental Change and Food Security in China. This is the first book to combine the disciplines of plant pathology and the social sciences in addressing the problems of agriculture and food security in a changing ecosystem.
McBeath has an extensive list of scientific articles in extension, technical, popular press, and peer-reviewed journals. She has a long history of service, and is a regular donor to the society. She organized symposiums and chaired sessions, as well as the first panel on “Gender Equality”. She served as member and chair of the APS-Pacific Division Lifetime Achievement Award Committee, and organized a highly successful annual meeting held in Anchorage, Alaska. A long-serving member of the APS International Program Board, she has worked assiduously to foster alliances between APS and the China Society for Plant Pathology.