50 for 50: Phillip Nolte

Published online: Feb 04, 2021 50 for 50, Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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Throughout 2021, as part of Potato Grower’s celebration of our 50th year in publication, we will be honoring in our pages and on our website 50 of the potato industry’s most innovative and influential individuals, companies and organizations over the past half-century. This “50 for 50” series will include researchers, salesmen, packers, processors and, of course, plenty of potato growers. A lot of them will be names you’ve heard before. To some, you’ll get a fresh introduction. Regardless, each has had an outsize impact on the U.S. potato industry, and each deserves our thanks and recognition. This article appears in the February 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

Phillip Nolte

If you ever as Phil Nolte to tell you about his career in the potato industry, it’s best to be prepared for more than just a cursory, “It’s been really good.”

Nolte grew up in Minnesota and attended Moorhead State College (now Minnesota State University Moorhead), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and first met his wife, Cindy, who has been at Phil’s side not only as a spouse but as an indispensable partner in potato research and industry relations ever since.

Nolte worked as a research assistant under the tutelage of noted NDSU potato pathologists Gary Secor and Neil Gudmestad, who ultimately helped him earn both his master’s and doctorate degrees and begin impressing potato people across the country.

In 1991, Nolte took a job at the University of Idaho as an extension seed potato specialist and plant pathologist and director of the university’s Tetonia Research & Extension Center, where he served the industry full-time until his 2015 retirement. He’ll happily recount stories involving myriad growers, researchers, politicians and reporters, remembering every name and face with impressive accuracy. Nolte was a key component over the years in developing programs and relationships that continue to help growers, researchers and industry advocates work together to improve the potato industry in Idaho and across the U.S. And though the work of a scientist is dear to Nolte, he’ll happily tell you the relationships he worked to forge have always been the biggest driver of any success he achieved.

Over the years, Nolte proved instrumental in mitigating potentially debilitating outbreaks of Fusarium dry rot, soft rot, PVYN and late blight in the Idaho. He spent considerable time knee-deep into projects that proved to be nothing short of vital to the seed potato sector. Even in retirement, Nolte hasn’t strayed far from his calling of serving the potato industry. In April 2020, after seven years of work, the textbook Potato Production Systems, which Nolte co-edited with Mike Thornton and Jeff Stark, and which promises to be a go-to reference for the U.S. potato industry many years, was published. 

A common thread Nolte says he tried to run through every one of his experiences and research projects is real, practical service to potato growers and the potato industry.

“Never at any point in my career did I attempt to be the cowboy and go off on a tangent of some kind,” he says. “If there’s something that’s a problem that could impact the industry, I tried to make sure the industry is a part of the business of releasing that information.”