Applied Research: Ground-penetrating radar could help producers dig potatoes early

Dr. Dirk Hays, plant geneticist, is using ground-penetrating radar to test for early maturing potato varieties. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Ground-penetrating radar might help the potato industry save water, according to Dr. Dirk Hays, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant geneticist in the soil and crop sciences department at College Station. Hays’ latest project utilizes ground-penetrating radar to select early maturing potato cultivars, which can help producers make harvest decisions and increase water-use efficiency. His project is in coordination with AgriLife Research and the department of horticultural sciences potato breeding program conducted by breeders Dr. Creighton Miller and Dr. Isabel Vales, both at College Station. “We know radar will work on potatoes,” Hays said. “Radar works on detecting objects that are denser than the soil environment they are in. Potatoes are very moist versus the sandy soils they are grown in, so it’s relatively easy to image the potatoes with the ground-penetrating radar.”  Continue reading

US: More than 500 potato growers and retailers unite on sustainability initiative

The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) announced today their mutual membership and partnership with the Potato Sustainability Initiative (PSI) to align metrics in measuring sustainability issues in the potato supply chain. TSC and PSI will work together to align sustainability metrics for over 500 potato growers and key retail partners. This partnership will also help streamline reporting by potato growers to retailers by working together to align metrics between PSI and TSC. PSI will join several agriculture initiatives currently TSC has in place to align metrics from farms to manufacturers to retailers. Dr. Christy Melhart Slay, director of research at TSC said, “TSC is very pleased to announce our partnership with PSI. Potato growers have been some of the first to create and adopt sustainability metrics. We look forward to learning from this progressive initiative.”  Continue reading

US: Potato growers do their part for soil health

Soil health is the next frontier in agriculture. While the ag industry has seen leaps in innovation in seed technology, equipment design and precision management strategies, there hasn’t been a concentrated effort to aggregate and measure the beneficial effects of innovative soil management strategies — until now. Nick Goeser, director of the Soil Health Partnership, says by managing soil’s physical, biological and nutrient aspects, practices to improve soil health can make a significant difference in yield resiliency and enhanced environmental outcomes. Additionally, improved soil health can make good business sense, too. John Keeling, vice president and executive director for the National Potato Council, said the potato industry is in the early stages of understanding soil health from a potato-centric view. Keeling notes potato growers are interested in strategies that have to do with enhancing soils to make them a part of pest management practices. More

Fascinating: Growing hydroponic potatoes inside Europe’s deepest metal mine

The Pyhäjärvi mine project is funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Regional Innovations and Experiments Foundation (AIKO) in Finland

The deepest metal mine in Europe, at a depth of 1,444 meters, is located in the Finnish town Pyhäjärvi. In about two years from now, the metal recovery from the mine is expected to come to an end. To develop a new, and somewhat unexpected, new purpose for the mine, a research team recently launched a pilot project to investigate the potential of using the mine as a site for sustainable crop development. Thus, at a depth of no less than 660 meters. the researchers found a stable environment in which they believe crops can grow well if done under controlled conditions. At this depth, the temperature in the mine is constantly stable between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius throughout the year. Since July, researchers have been testing the cultivation of potatoes as well as nettles in the mine. The crops grown are illuminated with LED light bulbs of the Finnish company Valoya, producer and supplier of LED grow lights. Continue reading

Simplot: ‘154,000 fewer pesticide hectare-applications if all fresh potatoes in Canada had Innate® Generation 2 traits’

In a press release, the J.R. Simplot Company says Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have completed the food, feed, and environmental safety assessments of the J.R. Simplot Company’s second generation of Innate® potatoes. The authorizations enable the potatoes to be imported, planted, and sold in Canada, complementing the three varieties of Innate® first generation potatoes that received regulatory approval last year. research shows that Innate® second generation potatoes help reduce waste associated with bruise, blight, and storage losses by reducing waste at multiple stages of the value chain. According to academic estimates, if all fresh potatoes in Canada had Innate® Generation 2 traits, potato waste (in-field, during storage, packing, retail and foodservice for fresh potatoes) “could be reduced by 93 million kilograms. In addition, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 14 million kilograms, water usage reduced by 13 billion liters, and a total of 154,000 fewer pesticide hectare-applications would be needed,” Simplot says in its press release. 

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McCain Foods makes food production more efficient at New Zealand potato processing plant

One of McCain Foods' food processing plants found more than 100 energy opportunities by inviting staff to an 'energy blitz'Most businesses can save serious money by improving energy efficiency. The first wins can be easy – but then what comes next? One of McCain Foods’ food processing plants found more than 100 energy opportunities by inviting staff to an ‘energy blitz’. McCain’s french fry plant near Timaru operates 24/7, turning 146,000 tonnes of locally-grown potatoes into frozen chips every year. Expectations for water and energy management are high. The plant has an Environmental Management System in place and is currently ISO14001:2015 certified. Quilliam and his team decided to run an ‘Energy & Water Blitz’ – a short, sharp hunt for opportunities run over two days. Twenty people from all over the business were invited to take part, including management, maintenance, factory floor and administration staff. More

Managing soil health in potatoes

Soil health can be seen as the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital, living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. This definition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) speaks to the importance of managing the soil so it can continue to sustain life for future generations. As the experts point out, potato production disrupts the soil in a very aggressive way. The tubers not only need to be dug up for harvest, there are also numerous planting and hilling procedures as well as chemical applications during the growing season. All this plowing, tilling and heavy equipment use has a profound effect on the stability and health of the soil. Spud Smart asked three experts in Canada to talk about important soil practices and how they can increase the soil’s capacity for potato production. More

US: Potato farm tour highlights biological diversity

In the heart of prime potato growing country, one San Luis Valley farm has such a worldwide reputation for soil health innovation that a recent field day attracted guests from Canada, France and Sweden in addition to the surrounding area. Rockey Farms, located a mile north of Center, is a multigenerational operation run by Brendon Rockey, a soil health pioneer who presents talks all over the world, and his brother Sheldon, who oversees distribution and marketing. When they opened the farm to several dozen visitors in mid-July, the resulting gathering was as diverse as the colorful mix of plants that blossomed in the surrounding fields. The farm’s main business is growing certified seed potatoes, with an emphasis on unique varieties prized by farmers market growers. They also produce 150 acres of fingerling potatoes that are sold into the fresh market, mostly to restaurants but also at retail stores under the Farm Fresh Direct Growers Reserve label. More

NZ: Mesh cheaper than chemicals in stopping potato psyllid

Charles Merfield with mesh which is more successful in warding off pests than chemicals.Scientist Dr Charles Merfield believes he has the answer to solving the problem of the potato psyllid, which costs growers about $10 million a year. Trials using mesh to cover the crops have shown an “astonishing” reduction in numbers of the insect, which delivers a damaging bacterium to the plant and tubers, causing major production losses. Not only does the mesh ward off the insects, it is about $1000 per hectare cheaper than chemicals, and increases yields by 12 per cent, so that gross margin profit rose between 27 to 75 per cent. “The economics are just amazing.  If this is not a stunning win for the New Zealand potato industry I don’t know what is,” Merfield, who is based at the Future Farming Centre at Lincoln University, said. “The result is utterly stunning, it is effectively complete control of potato psyllid. In comparison achieving complete control of any insect pest on crops with agrichemicals is nigh on impossible.  That this can be achieved with a non-chemical approach is even more heartening as it also addresses the spectre of insecticide resistance.” More

UK: Potato farmers who launched Fairfields Farm Crisps open new anaerobic digestion plant

home-page-about-usEssex potato farmers Laura and Robert Strathern, who diversified into crisp making are celebrating the opening of a new anaerobic digestion (AD) plant. Fairfields Farm at Wormingford, near Colchester, believes the investment, which means the business is entirely energy efficient, makes it the UK’s only hand-cooked crisp company powered solely by renewable energy. The plant, which occupies the space of about 10 football fields, took two years to plan and build. It is situated right next to the farm’s crisp factory and its potato fields. It digests organic matter, such as waste potatoes and crops such as maize and rye, and trillions of microorganisms anaerobically digest this to create gas. Special varieties of crisping potatoes are grown to make Fairfields Farm crisps, which are now exported to 20 countries around the world. More product launches are planned this year. More. Watch video

Numbers suggest sustainability sells produce

Image result for sustainabilityThe numbers show sustainability sells produce, said Andrew Mandzy, director of strategic insight with New York-based Nielsen, which tracks retail sales trends. “Many consumers are trying to be responsible citizens of the world, and they expect the same from corporations, so when it comes to purchasing, they are doing their homework,” Mandzy said. Before they make buying decisions, shoppers check labels, glean websites for business and manufacturing practices and pay attention to public opinion on specific brands in the news or on social media, he said. The industry is responding, but the direction of change isn’t always clear, grower-shippers say. “One of the most difficult things in terms of a comprehensive program continues to be the lack of clarity relative to our customers’ expectations,” said Eric Halverson, executive vice president of technology with Grand Forks, N.D.-based potato grower-shipper Black Gold Farms. More

Peru: Potatoes, the ‘real gold’ of the Incas

Image result for peru potatoThe humble potato is known the world over, but native Peruvian varieties can look quite a bit different than most of us are used to. Some are red or blue, others are long and skinny. More then 4,500 potato varieties are grown in Peru. The wealth of varieties is a natural treasure that’s worth preserving, especially in the face of climate change, which is posing a serious threat for traditional potato cultivation in the country. Watch 7 min video. Also watch how Nelli Quisbe-Quisbe makes a delicious potato soup called sopa de moraya in the Peruvian city of Cusco.

Research evaluates how ‘vadose zone’ affects runoff water

Image result for soil profileCody Ross, a member of the Watershed Systems Research Program at the University of Manitoba in Canada, is measuring water flow in a part of the soil called the vadose zone. Although the name might make you recall scary episodes of the “Twilight Zone,” the vadose zone is just the saturated level of soil right under the surface. It can be just a few centimeters to over a meter in depth. And the vadose zone is where important things happen in the soil. The vadose zone is complex. Within it, sand particles are huge in comparison to clay particles, affecting water flow. That’s why you can see water percolate through sand quickly on a beach. Healthy soils also have a good amount of organic matter from decaying plants or insects. Ross’ work is important because how water moves over, through, and around all those soil particles, organic matter, pores, microbes, and roots matters. More

US: Study found 25 percent decline in potato acreage in significant growing region due to water problems

Image result for Washington State University logoA Washington State University study has found a 25 percent decline in potato acreage in a significant portion of land atop the Odessa Aquifer between 2005 and 2015, due primarily to a drop in both water quality and water quantity. This is important to Adams, Grant, Lincoln and Franklin counties because the alternatives to potato production – mainly dry-farm wheat – don’t provide anywhere the economic boost, or the jobs, that potatoes do, according to Matt Harris, director of government affairs for the Washington Potato Commission. “The decline is very alarming in itself,” Harris said. Despite the decline in acreage, the study says potato production in the region was still worth $116 million in 2015 and accounted for roughly 3,000 processing jobs – jobs that likely won’t exist if farmers have to replace potato growing with less water-intensive crops. More

EAPR 2017 Conference to focus on sustainable solutions and determining top priority areas

Image result for eapr logoFor the third time since the creation of the EAPR, France will be the host for the 20th Triennial Conference of the European Association for Potato Research. It is also the 60th birthday of the EAPR. The Conference will be held July 9 – 14 at the Congress Center of Versailles. The Conference aims to look ahead by providing sustainable solutions and determining in the medium term the top priority areas. Within this scope, the Organising Committee is expecting a large and diversified range of participants. Therefore, the latest innovative knowledge and research will be highlighted such as integration of genomic advances, integrated Pest Management scheme, improvement of Decision Support Systems and Precision Agriculture for more cost effective or sustainable practices, safer and healthier products for consumers and environment. Visit the Conference website. The final program is now available online and can be downloaded here – and you can also view the Schedule at a glance.