Researchers say wildfire smoke can have several impacts on potatoes.

BOISE — The Idaho Potato Commission plans to hire a consultant to conduct a season-long inquiry into reducing rot in fresh potatoes that are shipped overseas.

The potato research was among 15 projects the Idaho State Department of Agriculture recently chose to fund with $1.9 million in 2016 specialty crop block grants. The money is provided by USDA under the Farm Bill.

Overall, the state’s potato industry received $405,000 in specialty crop grants, including $93,000 for the shipment study. USDA will issue final approval of the projects in late September.

“As we’ve been shipping fresh potatoes internationally for the past several years, we’re shipping further and further away, including to Southeast Asia and the Middle East,” said Frank Muir, the potato commission’s president and CEO. “Shipping fresh potatoes creates its own unique challenges. We’re investigating ways we can mitigate damage to those potatoes in transit.”

Muir said the research will evaluate dehumidifier use and proper temperature control to minimize mold growth during shipments that can take weeks to reach foreign ports. Muir said Idaho shippers have expressed increasing interest in improving quality in foreign shipments. Muir hopes to have results for shippers to put to use for exports of the current crop.

University of Idaho Extension storage specialist Nora Olsen will help the commission find consultants for the work.

Mary Jo Frazier, a support scientist for Olsen, said international shipments can end in very different environments than the U.S. ports from which they originate.

“Temperature control, humidity control, making sure there’s fresh air circulation, those are going to be the biggest keys,” Frazier said.

Frazier anticipates the research will involve placing instruments in actual fresh potato shipments to gather data and the use of growth chambers to simulate shipments.

Kevin Stanger, of Wada Farms in Eastern Idaho, said most fresh potatoes exported internationally are sent in refrigerated containers but “humidity is tough.” He said shipments can take more than three weeks to reach their destinations, and Wada ships only top-quality potatoes to minimize risk of rot.

“I know we’re doing more export, and anything that can help increase the availability to continue moving potatoes outside of the market is always a good thing,” Stanger said.

ISDA also awarded the potato commission $109,000 to continue developing potatoes with resistance to pale cyst nematode — a microscopic worm found only in the U.S. within a small area of Idaho’s Bonneville and Bingham counties.

USDA has established a PCN quarantine area, and resistant varieties could enable growers to resume planting potatoes without disrupting the PCN eradication program.

UI received $202,000 to continue work to monitor the continuing shift of potato virus Y toward strains that also cause necrosis in tubers.

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