By MATTHEW WEAVER
Zebra chip will be a hot topic for Northwest potato farmers when they get together next week for their annual meeting.
The Washington-Oregon Potato Conference kicks off with at 9 a.m. Jan. 29 in the Three Rivers Convention Center, 7016 W. Grandridge Blvd., in Kennewick, Wash. The trade show begins at noon the same day.
General sessions begin at 7:55 a.m. Jan. 30.
Ryan Holterhoff, Washington Potato Commission director of marketing and industry affairs, said participants will have more than 30 presentations and more than 100 exhibitors to choose from.
Several general session topics are devoted to potato psyllids, an insect pest related to aphids and leafhoppers that transmits the disease zebra chip.
"(It) has caused a lot of worry and some crop loss in 2011 and 2012 seasons," said Andy Jensen, regional research director for Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Congress' failure to pass a new farm bill interrupts funding of the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. The research grant program supported important projects on zebra chip and potato virus Y, Jensen said. No new grants will be available in 2013, but existing programs will not be affected, he said.
Agricultural humorist Damian Mason is keynote speaker.
"(He) is more than a professional speaker and entertainer, he is also a farm owner," Holterhoff said of Mason. "Damian will combine his farming knowledge, background and present-day experiences to provide the group with a funny, relevant and optimistic message for the group."
The conference includes an update on the industry's support of Washington State University's research station in Othello, Wash.
The potato commission provided resources in the early 1980s for a linear-move irrigation system, allowing for uniform overheard irrigation, said Mark Pavek, WSU research and extension horticulturist for potato and vegetable crops. Last June, the system collapsed due to a bad safety switch on a moving tower, which pulled the machine down. The commission offered to fund three new center pivots for the station.
"This was a pleasant shock to WSU as we were expecting assistance on one system, not three," Pavek said.
The commission wanted to bring the whole research farm up to date, not just the potato research portion, Pavek said. Each new pivot will be outfitted with Variable Rate Irrigation technology, allowing each individual experiment to get differing amounts of water with the same pass.
"The (potato commission) contribution has taken our research to another level and the new technology puts our farm in the top tier of research units across the world," Pavek said.
Holterhoff expects roughly 1,700 people to attend the conference.