POCATELLO, Idaho - Potato growers from every region in the West attended the 46th Annual Potato Conference held at Idaho State University in Pocatello.
While certain diseases such as bacterial ring rot, zebra chip, and potato late blight are still a threat, some of the top potato researchers gave lectures on how they are working in laboratories to nix that. However, the main concern is still the lack of water resources.
"The threat is there, and this particular disease, zebra chip, devastated the potato production areas in Texas and the central U.S.," University of Idaho Extension seed specialist Dr. Phillip Nolte said.
Nolte said he and his fellow researchers at U of I have been studying these disease outbreaks in order to reduce the threat in Idaho. With potato virus Y, they discovered the that if this disease was detected within the seed before it was planted, they were successfully able to diminish the threat.
He added the focus of this week's potato conference is to raise awareness for potato growers that these diseases are out there and there are ways to effectively maximize their profits while reducing the risks.
Logan Driscoll of Driscoll Farms said he and his family own about 9,000 acres of land they use to farm potatoes. He and his cousins attended this conference to stay informed on the new products and technologies revolutionizing the potato industry to help sustain and grow their business.
"There is some bacteria and some viruses going around that we could help prevent, and to keep our eyes out and open to grow the best crops that we can," Driscoll said.
Although Driscoll hasn't had to face any potato diseases quite yet, he said the biggest issue he and other farmers face is that of the diminishing water supply.
"Irrigation is definitely a big thing right now, where our water tables are pretty low and hopefully we can get some snow and some moisture this spring to go about this next year because it will impact our reservoirs as well as our canal systems," Driscoll said.
"All of us are concerned about the fact that we may be facing a short water year next year," Nolte said.
But it's a bittersweet exchange.
Nolte added that Idaho's uniquely high-mountain desert conditions provide a dry climate which prevents certain diseases such as potato late blight from taking over.
"We don't seem to have the long periods of leaf wetness and cool conditions within the fields that allow this disease to spread around," Nolte said.
However, both Nolte and Driscoll agree the right amount of water and dry conditions is a natural balancing act.
"This year if we don't get the water storage that we need, they could start cutting off canals or some other things that could affect your crops," Driscoll added.
Nolte said some possible solutions to the water shortage so far include more irrigation scheduling, or that we might even see farmers choosing a different variety of potatoes that do not require as much water. When it comes to predicting this upcoming year's potato production, he said it's still too early to determine and growers and researchers will have to wait and see what the moisture levels look like these next few months.
However, Nolte made one point clear: Idaho won't be losing its spot as the top potato producer in the nation anytime soon.