OTHELLO, Wash. — Seed lot trials at Washington State University’s potato field day reveal some cautionary signs for farmers.
The crop got off to a late start because of wet conditions coming out of winter, said Tim Waters, a WSU regional vegetable specialist based in Pasco.
“Things are just a tiny bit behind, but not too far,” he said. “We got off to a slower start, but we’ve had really nice conditions and not excessive heat, like we sometimes have this time of year.”
Visitors to the field day experienced rain and cold — conditions ideal for late blight, Waters said.
He urged growers to be vigilant and inform researchers if they find the disease.
“That’s something we like to manage on a regional basis,” he said.
WSU researchers grow roughly 200 samples to check for viruses and other potential growth problems in the greater industry.
Flags in the seed lot trials indicated mosaic, a symptom of Potato Virus Y, or PVY.
Many seed lots still have heavy levels, said Mark Pavek, WSU potato specialist.
“There are still some bad seed lots coming into the Columbia Basin,” Pavek said. “It needs to be cleaned up from certain seed regions, and one of them is Idaho.”
There are good sources of seed in Idaho, but some have nearly 100% of the virus each year, Pavek said.
When growers buy seed, they should look at health certificates.
“Even though it’s certified doesn’t mean it’s free of disease — it’s certified to have a certain level of disease,” Pavek said.
“I think sometimes commercial growers (in Washington) are buying seed lots because maybe the variety is hard to obtain and they’re just taking what they can get,” he added. “Maybe they’re doing it because it’s cheaper, too. It will impact their yield and bottom line. With today’s science, I don’t think we should be seeing as many seed lots with that much PVY.”
Mark Stalham, senior research associate with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, England, led a group of 25 potato growers and industry members.
They started in the Skagit Valley, examining production for the fresh market, then processed production in Eastern Washington, ending with seed production systems in Oregon.
Stalham has visited the U.S. since 1991.
Washington potato yields average roughly 30 tons per acre. In Europe, yields average roughly 20 tons per acre.
Washington’s top farmers are producing “extremely high” yields, close to the potential of their environment, Stalham said.
“Our growers are looking at ‘How do you do this? How do you grow it? What’s the key?’” he said.
If the key is sunlight, England’s farmers can’t do much about it, Stalham said. If it’s water, maybe they can.
Stalham said the 250 people at WSU’s field day represented most of the state’s industry. He’d like to combine multiple generations’ worth of data and inspire similar enthusiasm in the United Kingdom industry.
“We’ve got 1,700 growers, but to get 170 people (to a field day) would be difficult,” he said.