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Field day offers tips for potato growers

The Hermiston Agricultural Research and Experiment Station held its annual potato field day Wednesday.
By George Plaven

Staff Writer

Published on June 28, 2017 7:07AM

Ryan Graebner, with Oregon State University, passes around potato samples affected by nematodes during field day at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center

Staff photo by George Plaven

Ryan Graebner, with Oregon State University, passes around potato samples affected by nematodes during field day at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center

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Ruijun Qin, left, and Sagar Sathuvalli give a presentation during potato field day at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Staff photo by George Plaven

Ruijun Qin, left, and Sagar Sathuvalli give a presentation during potato field day at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Buy this photo

Two new spud varieties are coming soon to the Pacific Northwest.

Echo Russet and Castle Russet — developed by the Tri-State Potato Breeding Program that includes Oregon, Washington and Idaho — are just about ready to be released commercially, according to Sagar Sathuvalli with Oregon State University.

Sathuvalli, a potato breeder at OSU’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Experiment Center, discussed the traits of each variety with local growers during the station’s annual potato field day June 21. Both varieties boast high yields and good cooking quality, and can be used either for french fries or fresh market.

Getting to this point is no small feat, Sathuvalli said. From the time breeding begins to when the potatoes are approved for release, it usually takes 12-15 years of field trials.

Echo Russet — named for the city of Echo — and Castle Russet are about to cross that finish line. The Capital Press reports that the Potato Variety Management Institute, which handles licensing and royalties for Tri-State varieties, has decided to release the latest creations in December.

“We should have approval very soon,” Sathuvalli said.

Potato field day also featured updates on research projects to help farmers control pesky Lygus bugs, manage various diseases and thwart parasitic nematodes.

Sapinder Bali, who works with Sathuvalli in the potato breeding program, said they are still working to pin down the specific genes in potatoes responsible for nematode resistance. Nematodes are microscopic parasites that infect potato roots and suck out the plant’s nutrients, causing both internal and external defects that can make the crop unmarketable. Once the genes are identified, breeders like Sathuvalli can use them to boos the resistance of new varieties over the next decade.

“Probably next year, I will have some exciting findings to share with you all,” Bali said.

Josephine Antwi, a postdoctoral researcher at HAREC, later transitioned into talking about Lygus bugs and how the insects may affect potato yields.

There are two species of Lygus bugs in the area, Antwi said, which are widely distributed and should not be confused with aphids. What Antwi is still trying to figure out is whether the bugs are capable of transmitting harmful purple top virus, and how many insects are too many for potatoes to handle.

“We are trying to relate the presence of Lygus bugs to yield,” Antwi said.

The event marked the first potato field day for Ruijun Qin, the station agronomist who was hired last year to replace Don Horneck. Qin recently started field trials with Sathuvalli looking into the best nutrient management practices for Echo Russet and Castle Russet potatoes, so farmers will know what to do and what to expect if they decide to plant new varieties in their own fields.

Ken Frost, plant pathologist at HAREC, wrapped things up by delving into disease concerns this year. Late blight has an especially high probability of turning up around Hermiston given the region’s cool, wet spring.

“We’re going to see it sometime this year,” Frost said. “The problem is we don’t know when or where.”

HAREC station manager Phil Hamm said the field day is an opportunity for growers to see (and touch) for themselves how the facility’s research can help them improve their success.

“This station is about you,” Hamm told local growers.

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0825.



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