The More You Know

Published online: Mar 12, 2021 Articles Sarah Ehrlich
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This article appears in the March 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

Good research is key to a thriving potato industry, both in Colorado and nationally. Agricultural research benefits American consumers by:

  • Creating jobs and increasing grower profitability;
  • Providing food security and affordability;
  • Improving our environment including the soil, water and air; and
  • Protecting public health through better nutrition and food safety.

According to Economic Research Service reports, agricultural research and development typically returns a minimum of $20 for every $1 invested. The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC) is committed to the importance of potato research in Colorado through the work and recommendations of the CPAC research sub-committee, in partnership with researchers at Colorado State University (CSU).

The San Luis Valley Research Center was established in 1888, the same year as the main station in Fort Collins. Passing the test of time, the partnership between CPAC and CSU researchers continues to strengthen and increase in value for growers and researchers. In the San Luis Valley, this 12-member sub-committee includes grower-shippers Tyler Mitchell, Kent Price, Art Holland, Jared Smith, Grant Mattive, Doug Messick and Will Hathaway. The industry is represented by Bill Crowder, Chris Sittler, Eric Hinton and Lyla Davis. CSU Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) farm manager Zach Czarnecki, a relative newcomer, rounds out the group. This team annually gathers information from the industry to determine research priorities and to review research project results.

The sub-committee communicates these priorities to CSU researchers, both at the San Luis Valley AES and on campus in Fort Collins. Feedback from growers is critical to ensure that the research being conducted is relevant to their needs, practical in scope, within budgetary resources, and of the highest quality. Researchers seeking CPAC funding must first submit a concept proposal for their research to the sub-committee. Then it is reviewed with the researcher for scientific merit, appropriate budget and relevance. The goal is to create measurable expectations for all involved before final approval of the project.

The San Luis Valley AES team consists of Samuel Essah, potato crop management; David Holm, potato breeder; Sastry Jayanty, potato post-harvest biology; and Chakradhar Mattupalli, plant pathology.

The CSU Fort Collins team includes Amy Charkowski, head of the Department of Bio-agricultural Sciences and Pest Management, with a team of Stephen Pearce, Vamsi Nalam, Courtney Jahn, Jane Stewart, Adam Heuberger, Punya Nachappa and Jorge Vivanco.

On-campus researchers have become an integral part of CPAC research in recent years. The CPAC sub-committee has focused on molecular biology and genetic research, soil health and soil microbiome projects, and potato nutrition studies. Examples of research done include traditional potato breeding, using molecular markers for rapid virus detection, and gene editing to improve new potato varieties.

It is imperative in Colorado and nationally that we increase our investment in agricultural research to inspire the brightest young minds to pursue agricultural science education for the sustainability of potato growers and our planet. An exciting CSU investment to help potato growers is a brand new lab that will be located at the new CSU Spur campus in Denver.  One of the new buildings is being partially dedicated to diagnostics and lab space, which visitors, particularly young students, will be able to view from windows.

“It will be a sort of ‘one-stop shop’ for agricultural diagnostics,” says Charkowski. “With all the challenges growers are seeing, we think this is super-important. It may help bring newer technologies to the growers sooner.”

Charkowski says there have been challenges working through the pandemic, but bright opportunities have presented themselves, such as development of multiple online programs, including a new agricultural biology class. The Colorado potato industry and CSU are committed to investing in the future scientists needed to improve agricultural research for generations to come.