New advisory panel generates industry support for potato research priorities

Potatoes are harvested in Eastern Idaho last fall. A new comittee formed by the industry aims to rank industry research priorities and generate support for related projects.

EAGLE, Idaho — Potato industry leaders have formed a new organization that will prioritize growers’ most pressing research needs and generate support for grant applications in those areas.

The Potato Research Advisory Committee had its first meeting via teleconference in October and recently lent its support to a pair of research proposals seeking funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The committee spurred more than 50 letters of support from industry sources for the top research priority, the bacterial pathogen Dickeya, which first surfaced as a widespread problem for U.S. spud producers in 2015.

About 30 letters of support were also generated for the second project, seeking a $100,000 planning grant to return next year with a broader proposal for a high-speed method of potato analysis.

The committee aims to give the industry the same united front in its applications for all of the major grants.

The idea for the committee came from conversations involving Pat Kole, with the Idaho Potato Commission, National Potato Council Executive Vice President and CEO John Keeling, Potatoes USA President and CEO Blair Richardson and Potatoes USA research director Ryan Krabill.

“What we’ve found historically, if you go into any funding process where the industry identifies what its priorities are and supports those priorities, it’s more likely that the funding source will pay more attention to you and look upon your funding request with more favorability,” Kole said.

Kole believes the industry’s habit of insisting all grant proposals are important, rather than identifying priorities, has resulted in lost grant opportunities.

Kole said the committee’s first in-person meeting is scheduled for early February, during the NPC’s annual Potato Fly-in, during which growers come to Washington, D.C., to lobby lawmakers.

The committee includes four state potato organization managers, including Kole and Oregon Potato Commission President and CEO Bill Brewer. The committee also includes four representatives from Potatoes USA and four members from NPC. The members will share talking points about research projects throughout their organizations to generate support letters.

Kole also said the committee plans to consult on research priorities with the Potato Association of America, an organization of potato researchers.

“One of the things we’ve lacked from our industry was feedback on what we feel is most critical on any given year,” Richardson said.

Keeling said the new committee is modeled after NPC’s Research Review Team, which has provided potato growers’ input on NIFA grant applications. Keeling said some grants require input from grower advisory committees, and the new organization should also check that box.

Keeling believes the committee will avoid duplication of research and “more clearly establish national priorities to make sure everybody in the industry is on board.”

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