Potato conference highlights new research in organic variety differences
University of Idaho researchers Amber Moore and Nora Olsen along with Jen Miller, sustainable agriculture coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, presented on fertilizing techniques utilizing dried distillers grains, promising varieties based on 2009 results and funding sources for current organic farmers and those in transition to organic production.
Moore and Olsen told the audience that they found lower glucose levels in tubers fertilized with dried distillers grains, an organically approved waste product from ethanol production.
According to Olsen those potatoes with lower sucrose levels stayed greener longer into the growing season, they weren't under dead vines as long as other varieties and they did not have the conversion of starch into sucrose into reducing sugars.
Moore said that in-season application of 48 pounds of Chilean nitrate did increase yields, but did not have a significant increase in combination with dried distillers grains.
"Overall, this is kind of good news," she said. "We are really trying not to be dependent on Chilean nitrate. We are trying to, trying to use it not at all, but it is something we still have to consider."
"Burbank may not be the ideal organic potato to grow, obviously," Olsen said in opening her presentation on varieties used trials on the Kimberly Research and Extension Center's 11-acre field.
Varieties included Alturas, Defender, Yukon Gem, Yukon Gold, Russet Norkotah. Russet Norkotah 3, Russet Burbank, Dark Red Norland, Ampera and Agata.
Early performance and early emergence makes a big difference in weed control and getting to an early market and the Yukon Gold is slow to emerge whereas the Yukon Gem is emerges much faster, Olsen said.
Olsen said that they had a lot of problems with Colorado Potato Beetles this year. She said the beetles actually show a preference for specific varieties in the trial field, skipping over one variety to defoliate another.
The beetles showed a decided bias for Dark Red Norland, Norkotah and Ampera, but they avoided Defender, which is late blight resistant and may be a beneficial characteristic.
"I thought it was interesting that they (CPB) had to walk by a variety to get to a different variety and decide to defolitate that." Olsen said.
Growers might control beetle management by placing varieties preferred by the CPB on the perimeter of the field, she said.
Total yields were better then last year but size profiles varied quite a bit. Ampera had an average yield but a lot of small potatoes, Olsen said.
"Highest yields were from Yukon Gem and Agata," she said.
"Yukon Gem would be a nice replacement for Yukon Gold, " Olsen said.
Her one reservation about Yukon Gem was its tendency, like Yukon Gold, to have some pink eye and some pink on the skin.
Miller said that the 2008 Farm Bill provided financial incentives in the National Organic Program to organic growers. Organic farmers should look to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the conservation Stewardship Program, both administered by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), for financial assistance, she said.
A new organic provision in EQIP targets organic producers and producers transitioning to organic production.
Financial assistance is limited to $20,000 per year and up to $80,000 during a six-year period.
More than $400,000 has gone to Idaho organic farmers, Miller said. She encouraged interested growers to contact the NRCS for information.