Out of India: Ag agent serves Cavalier County from Langdon

LANGDON, N.D. -- A new North Dakota State University Extension Service ag agent in Cavalier County has learned a lot and come a long way -- literally -- to serve her northern Red River Valley farmers.Anitha Chirumamilla, a native of India with a ...

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Anitha Chirumamilla, a native of India (right) holds a doctorate in entomology from North Dakota State University. She started November 2015 as an agricultural and natural resources agent at the county seat in Langdon, where her husband Venkataramana "Ven" Chapara, is a plant pathologist at the NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center. (Photo supplied by Cavalier County Extension Service)
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LANGDON, N.D. - A new North Dakota State University Extension Service ag agent in Cavalier County has learned a lot and come a long way - literally - to serve her northern Red River Valley farmers.
Anitha Chirumamilla, a native of India with a doctorate in entomology, started in November 2015 as an agricultural and natural resources agent at the county seat in Langdon. She is married to Venkataramana “Ven” Chapara, a plant pathologist at the NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center.
The couple comes from different parts of the Andhra Pradesh state on the east coast of India, about 8,000 miles from the northern Red River Valley.
Anitha’s father grew up in a farming family and became a cotton merchant. At age 17, Anitha took a college aptitude test that said she might excel in agricultural science, home science or veterinary science. She studied at an agricultural college in Bapatla, India. Her undergraduate topics included agronomy, plant pathology, entomology, plant breeding, soil science and extension.
Extension, insects
“I’ve always had a passion for extension,” Anitha says. “I also had a fascination for bugs, so I chose entomology.” After finishing her undergraduate work in 1999, she enrolled in a master’s entomology program at Gujarat Agricultural University in western India. While in the master’s degree program in 2001, she met Ven, who also was studying entomology, and was from a different part of her home state.
Anitha earned her master’s in 2002. She worked in the private sector and public sectors, including one job involving extension. Wanting to advance in her career, she applied for various doctorate programs in the U.S. and connected at North Dakota State University, where the research projects available fit her interests.
She came to Fargo in 2013, where she worked Mark Boetel, an NDSU research and extension specialist. Her project was on the overwintering physiology of sugar beet root maggots - an important pest in one of the region’s highest-value crops.
“Dr. Boetel had a collection of sugar beet root maggot larvae, sitting in his fridge,” Anitha recalls. “Some were up to five years old, but they were alive. We didn’t know if they were in an active developmental stage or in a condition we call diapause,” a dormancy. Anitha worked to study the oxygen consumption and release of carbon dioxide to measure their metabolism. Another part of the study looked at the insect’s lipid (fat) reserves.
The goal is to offer farmers the best science on how many years they need in a rotation after they’ve been hit by a sugar beet maggot infestation.
Personal, professional
Family and professional paths have taken numerous logistical turns, following opportunities in the Upper Midwest.
After a year at NDSU, Anitha returned to India and married Ven in 2004. Ven left a job at Dupont to move to Fargo and pursued a doctorate at NDSU, shifting from entomology to plant pathology. They had a son in 2007.
In 2009, Anitha finished her doctorate and joined a post-doctoral research program with Janet Knodel, NDSU’s Extension Service entomologist. The project involved screening sunflower germplasm for natural resistance to five important insect pests. In February 2009, she finished her doctorate.
In December 2009, Ven secured his doctorate. Within a couple of months, Ven moved to Champaign, Ill., where he worked in corn, wheat and soybean diseases at the University of Illinois in Urbana. It was a 12-hour drive from Fargo. In 2011, Anitha followed him to Champaign, where she worked on a project studying differences in biotypes of soybean aphid pests. In January 2013, Anitha had a second child, a daughter.
Only a few days later, Ven moved to Minot, N.D., to take a post at the North Central Research Extension Center in Minot, N.D. This time, the family was a 16-hour drive apart. In September 2013, Anitha took a job as an Extension entomology field specialist at the South Dakota State University Rapid City Regional Center. At that point, they were only 6 hours apart.
At SDSU, Anitha helped producers grappling with foes such as alfalfa weevils, and challenges of red sunflower seed weevil, the banded sunflower moth, and cutworms. She remembers a conversation with a producer while she bought a cup of coffee at a gas station in Wall, S.D. The rancher told her he never understood how alfalfa weevils worked until she explained it. “That comment meant a lot,” she says.
Always moving
In May 2015, Ven took a job with the Langdon (N.D.) Research Extension Center, where he works on diseases of the region’s crops - soybeans, sunflowers, canola, beans and wheat. Soon, the couple learned the Cavalier County Extension office was looking for an agricultural agent.
“The position had been open for a long time and they weren’t getting many applications,” Anitha says. “I thought this was maybe my opportunity.”
And it was.
Anitha expects to spend the first growing season trying to meet as many growers, stakeholders and industry people as possible.
She says she’s happy to be in Extension, in a job akin to what she did at SDSU. She enjoys one-on-one interaction with growers to help them reach their farming goals. She’s happy to have a research center close to her at Langdon, and the opportunity to help in some research projects at the center.
New, broader view
But it’s also new because it will involve work in 4-H youth development and county achievement day work. “Until now, I was in the comfort zone of my area of specialty. Now, I have to have broad knowledge of every facet of agriculture.”
After two years in Extension, and with her connections at NDSU, she has a community of friends in different disciplines to help her, and Langdon feels like home.
She is particularly grateful for Macine Lukach, a family and consumer science and six-county parent resource center coordinator, and Jane Hayen, support staff. The community as a whole has been “exceptionally good” and welcoming.
Lukach, who has worked in the office for 23 years, says she is mentoring Anitha in her roles as a county agent. “We have all of the different roles as Extension agents,” Lukach says. “We don’t do the same thing every day.” She’ll work with everything from 4-H County Achievement Days to dealing with county crop and livestock improvement associations, to helping professionals keep current on pesticide certifications.
Anitha thinks that some of her first presentations likely will focus on what she knows best - insects - but will broaden to the whole range of topics important to Cavalier County producers. “Thank goodness I have lots of help from colleagues,” she says.

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