Doug Boze, Seed Potato Certification Manager, Idaho Crop Improvement Association
The 2011 season has been interesting and challenging for Idaho Certified Seed growers. Rainy spring weather at planting time delayed seeding in some areas up to three to four weeks. The slow start may have had an adverse affect on yield and size of some varieties.
Thirty-four thousand, seven-hundred and sixty-six acres were certified in 2011, and that is about 14 percent more than the 30,461 acres certified in 2010. Russet Burbank is still the leading variety at 15,123 acres, or about 43.5 percent of the total crop, followed by Ranger Russet, Russet Norkotah 296 and Alturas. One-hundred and forty-four varieties and selections were certified.
Post-harvest testing will soon be under way in the Imperial Valley in Southern California. This location has been in use since 2006 and has proven to be a reliable area for winter testing. Starting in 2007, the Idaho program made a significant change to the winter test protocol in that all emerged plants are leaf-sampled and ELISA-tested for mosaic (PVY & PVA) in the ICIA laboratory.
Prior to the change, only plants showing visual virus symptoms were lab-tested. The advantage to testing all emerged plants for mosaic by ELISA is that the test detects viruses in plants that are not exhibiting disease symptoms. All other factors determining lot eligibility, including percent Potato leafroll virus and seed-born chemical injury are determined by visual row inspections. As it is no longer necessary to wait until sufficient numbers of plants have reached a size suitable for visual mosaic detection, testing and reporting can begin earlier in the winter.
Also, starting in 2009, another improvement in protocol began where about one-third of the lots were collected, treated and planted in mid-October. That is two weeks earlier than what was customary. The remaining lots were planted in early November. Leaf sampling takes place during January and early February. A “Field Day” also takes place in early February, allowing seed growers and representatives of seed buyers an opportunity to visit the test plot and evaluate their test rows. Seed buyers often use a combination of lab results and visual observation of test rows when making buying decisions
Nina Zidack, Director Montana Seed Potato Certification Program Potato Lab, Montana State University
In 2010, there were about 150 acres of Classic Russet. This year, there were slightly more, but not as many acres of nuclear and Generation 1s, so acreage will probably be down next near. In terms of non-russet varieties, the Norland strains and Yukon Gold are the only two of which we have significant acreage, but we have a number of both heirloom and new specialty varieties.
Again, Russet Burbank is definitely still king. You can tell it’s very strong over time. In Montana, demand is driven by the processors and the buyers. Whatever the demand is, seed growers are going to grow. So, it seems like these varieties are still holding very strong in the industry.
In Gallatin Valley, there were 4,061 acres; Madison County—1,018; Beaverhead—1,041; 421 in Deer Lodge County; strong acreage in Broadwater County—1,531; 216 in Chouteau. There’s a new grower growing some garden seed in Cascade County. The Flathead and the Lake County areas reported 1,570 and 258, respectively.
If a person were to use musical analogies, the way the season started off would have been “Raindrops keep falling on my head.” There was a lot of rain. The Yellowstone raged a lot of water, but May was reasonably dry. Planting was very timely, followed by a June that was very cool and wet. On Weather.com, the Ronan-Polson area had 22 days of under-average temperatures in June, and Bozeman had 20—very cool, which created very sluggish growing conditions. That was experienced all over the region and in Washington, Oregon and Idaho as well.
Once July and August came, there were beautiful growing conditions, with very little extreme heat. There were a lot of 80–85-degree days and 50-degree nights—just beautiful growing conditions. The crop really caught up. It got off to a slow start, but it caught up.
By harvest, there was nothing but blue skies. The only bit of a challenge was almost all the crop had to be watered to even get it out of the ground because it was so dry. Most people were done by the middle of October and looking at a really, really nice crop in storage.
Jeff McMorran, Oregon Seed Certification Service Specialist, Oregon State University
Growers ended up smiling this year despite what nature had to throw at them—a cool, wet spring resulting in one of the latest plantings of seed potatoes in years, devastating hail in some parts of the state in late July and high heat slowing down the early harvest season.
All in all, the crop turned out well, with minimal defects, decent yields and high quality. It’s uncertain as to whether that’s more a testament to the skill of Oregon growers or the resiliency of the potato itself.
Oregon certified close to 2,600 acres of potato seed in 2011; a slight increase over pervious years. The “old standards” like Russet Norkotah, Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, Shepody and Umatilla Russet still predominate the seed industry which, for the most part, continues to center on the production of high-quality G3-class seed of “mainstream” processing and fresh-market varieties.
However, the type and number of varieties produced continues to increase dramatically. Forty years ago, Oregon produced only 10 potato varieties, whereas in 2011, 51 varieties were produced, most of them proprietary, with a large increase in “specialty” varieties with “value added” qualities. Additional information on acreage and the varieties grown in Oregon can be found at: http://seedcert.oregonstate.edu/potatoes.
While the number of varieties has increased, the number of growers producing them has declined. Over the years, Oregon has seen a consolidation of its seed industry from one with many relatively small farms producing 50 to 100 acres of seed for local markets, to larger farms producing up to 700 acres and shipping them throughout the West. Many of the older storage and irrigation systems have been replaced with state-of-the-art facilities, and progress in achieving record yields while maintaining high quality have helped keep these farms profitable.
Tight economic times in 2011 continued to downsize the university support the growers in Oregon have traditionally received over the years. The year 2011 saw the closure of its Potato Foundation Seed Project, and several long-time potato researchers and Extension personnel have retired, or otherwise moved on. Replacements are slow, but thanks to the resiliency of the potato growers and the potato itself, the smiles continue.
Dick Bedington, Washington seed grower
The Washington seed crop was average. The season started out wet, but after it dried up we could plant our crop. It grew well. Harvesting was average, but we were up about 300–400 acres of seed from last year. Quality was really nice, and the size was down.
Demand for reds is really strong right now, as is demand for yellows. There are no open russets, so everything is pretty well sold.
Seed costs are up quite a bit because of pressure from berry crops here. Land, rent and labor has gone way up. Starting in 2012, our minimum wage went up to $9.04 an hour. It’s the highest in the nation. We had a good demand for our seed, so overall, it’s been a good year.