Shutdown Doesn't Delay Potato Research at Idaho Station

Published online: Jan 28, 2019 Articles
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Source: Post Register 

Potato plants don’t stop growing just because the federal government goes on a partial shutdown.

Fortunately for Rich Novy and Jonathan Whitworth, the University of Idaho staff at the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center are taking care of business during the federal government’s impasse and harvesting first-generation tubers they have developed.

The R&E Center has a cooperative arrangement with the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service in which ARS leases greenhouse space and land for its breeding program.

Novy is a research geneticist specializing in potatoes for the ARS and Whitworth is the potato plant pathologist for the ARS. Both work at the Aberdeen R&E.

Their breeding work is then forwarded to the UI for future development of cultivars for the Tri-State breeding program.

With the government shutdown into its fifth week, Jeff Stark, superintendent of the Aberdeen R&E and a UI professor of agronomy, and his staff have taken on the additional harvest work load for Novy and Whitworth.

“The University of Idaho collaborates very closely with the USDA Agricultural Research Service and we assist in a lot of the operations that take place in the early stages of the breeding program,” Stark said.

Stark said that in the past he and his crew would normally help Novy and Whitworth with the harvesting of the first-generation material.

Standing in the greenhouse as his staff harvested the tiny tubers, Stark said that fortunately things are a little slow right now as they prepare for the Eastern Idaho Potato Conference in Pocatello this week.

“Normally, they would be working on my project but because this is a critical step in the life cycle of these biological organisms it’s got to be done now. They need to be harvested and stored in a cooler to keep them from sprouting,” Stark said.

“Right now we can redirect our efforts to the point where we can assist in getting the work done here,” he said. “Basically, what you’re looking at here is if nobody did this and if this federal shutdown lasted another month or whatever we could potentially lose a year in the breeding program, which is a huge hit.”

Novy and Whitworth were not available for comment as ARS representatives due to the furlough.

“We continue to do all activities as prescribed in the REE (Research, Education & Economics) shutdown plan,” said ARS agency spokesperson James-Denton Wylie.

“There’s some things that they primarily do that our people aren’t as experienced with,” Stark said.

“If we get to that point we’re going to have a serious problem,” he said. “If this extends (government shutdown) for a couple weeks more, then it’s going to be a much more complicated issue.”

Editor's note: On Jan. 25, President Trump signed a continuing resolution to to reopen the federal government through Feb. 15.