Spud industry's grow-out may move from Calif. to Hawaii
By JOHN O'CONNELL
The Idaho potato industry's annual winter grow-out, in which seed lot samples are planted to test for potato virus Y and other diseases, may move from Brawley, Calif., to Oahu, Hawaii, to avoid the threat of frost.
Lots planted in Brawley for this season's grow-out sustained frost damage on Jan. 4, when temperatures dipped to 31 degrees for several hours. A second frost further damaged plants on Jan. 17, though many leaf samples had already been taken by then.
University of Idaho Extension seed pathologist Phil Nolte said he's confident this year's testing for PVY was accurate. Since 2007, Idaho Crop Improvement Program has relied on enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay testing for PVY, which utilizes color changes caused by the presence of antibodies to confirm the presence of disease. ELISA tests don't require perfect leaves.
Chad Neibaur, a Grace, Idaho, seed grower who serves on the Idaho Crop Improvement Program state board of directors, believes results were likely skewed for tests that rely on visual inspections, such as potato leafroll virus and damage by glyphosate and other chemicals.
"I'm sure that's the case," Neibaur said, adding it's fortunate those problems aren't prevalent in Idaho.
Neibaur said frost has now affected the grow-out during three of the past six years, delaying results while officials wait for plants to recover.
Neibaur serves on a committee that's mulled the possibility of making the move and said committee members will soon recommend the switch to Hawaii to an Idaho Crop Improvement Program advisory board. He said a member of his committee has visited the grow-out field in Hawaii, owned by Pioneer Seed Co., and several states, including Montana, have already moved their winter tests there.
The move would also provide the industry grow-out data by early January, rather than early March. Neibaur explained Hawaii receives two hours per day more sunlight than Brawley and has warmer average temperatures.
Neibaur said ocean freight would make a Hawaii grow-out more costly to growers, but land rents are cheaper in Hawaii because the plants grow in half the time, tying up the ground for a shorter period.