Recently, Fortune magazine listed its “100 Great Things About America.” Coming in at No. 8 was the Idaho potato.
When shoppers are asked why they buy Idaho potatoes, “quality” is the No. 1 response. In my opinion, that’s largely due to the Idaho potato industry’s commitment to supporting research. Ongoing research is absolutely necessary in agriculture and essential to growing and harvesting a superb potato every year.
Many don’t realize the IPC spends close to a million dollars each year funding new and existing research projects. These projects range from ongoing potato weed and disease management to the development of new tests to help eradicate devastating pests like potato psyllids and potato cyst nematodes (PCN).
Following are descriptions of just a few of the research projects the IPC is currently funding:
1) Potato Psyllids – The IPC is working with the University of Idaho’s (UI) College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Department to develop a new test agronomists can use in the field to determine immediately if a plant has been infected with Liberibacter, the bacterium that causes zebra chip (ZC). The sooner a grower is aware if his field is infected, the sooner he can contain and prevent the spread of this extremely infectious disease.
2) PCN – The UI and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are working collaboratively to tackle PCN by developing a trap crop—a natural eradication method that could replace fumigant control.
• Plant Control – Plants that mimic tubers but don’t provide the nutrients PCN needs to survive have been developed and are being tested in greenhouse conditions. The theory is that when PCN egg sacks detect these plants and hatch, they will soon die from starvation. Since these sacks can survive deep in the soil for decades, plant control is critical.
• Biological Control – Scientists have discovered a naturally occurring virus in the soil that is harmless to potato plants and humans but is devastating to PCN. This virus feeds on nematodes and eventually destroys them. Proper ways to monitor and safely manage this virus are being studied.
3) Acrylamide – Ongoing research is being conducted with Oregon and Washington State Universities along with the Oregon and Washington Potato Commissions to decrease acrylamide levels in potatoes. New potato varieties that contain less acrylamide are being developed and tested. Additionally, since acrylamide levels are activated by temperature changes, potato storage facilities and methods are being examined and alternate practices are being tested.
The IPC supports and funds many other scientific studies that impact and benefit the entire industry in the United States. The U.S. is the fourth-largest potato producing country in the world, and in today’s global economy, it’s more important than ever that we work collaboratively to eradicate devastating diseases that can easily spread across borders.