Addressing Grower-Identified Organic Potato PMSP Education Needs to Triple Idaho’s Organic Potato Production
Potatoes are one of the most pesticide intensive crops grown in the Pacific Northwest. Meaningful reductions in the region’s pesticide use can come from the transition of potato farmers to methods relying upon fewer pesticides, especially organic production. Idaho growers are interested in expanding their potato product offerings to include organic. The Idaho Potato Commission has identified the need for Idaho to become a “one-stop shop,” meaning Idaho potato growers must grow and sell organic and specialty potatoes to satisfy buyers’ requests. To succeed, Idaho potato growers are seeking information on managing weeds, insects, diseases and nematodes in an organic system. The project team provided some initial educational venues during the past year and was amazed at the interest, with 180 people attending a field day and winter workshops. Additionally, 72% of survey respondents at the workshops requested more educational offerings. Project participants are located in southern Idaho and currently grow a couple hundred to thousands of acres of potatoes each year. By 2009, Idaho potato farmers will transition to organic potato production and triple the 2000-2005 average number of organic potato acres of 365 according to USDA ERS. This will result in an average reduction of 127 pounds of pesticides per acre. Assuming these acres were treated, the additional 730 acres of organic potato production will represent a total reduction of 91,300 pounds of targeted soil fumigants and carbamates. This project will be conducted with the vertically-integrated Potandon Produce, the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the country.
Project goals and objectives
1. By 2009, Idaho potato farmers will transition to organic potato production and triple the 2000-2005 average number of organic potato acres of 365 acres (this will reduce a total of 91,300 pounds of targeted pesticides.)
2. Project team will provide training and one-on-one consulting for at least 43 potato farmers and agricultural consultants.
3. Long-time and new organic potato farmers will work with the University of Idaho to develop crop costs and returns estimates (enterprise budgets) for organic potatoes.
1. Organic potato production grew in 2008 and then fell sharply in 2009. In 2007, 495 acres of organic potatoes were grown. This jumped significantly in 2008 to 1,176 acres. We expected acres to remain fairly level in 2009, but one of the two new organic potato fresh pack companies in Idaho did not buy organic potatoes from Idaho farmers in 2009. This caused acres to contract to 528. During this project, we found that many farmers were interested in growing organic potatoes. Our project team advised the farmers that they needed to have a market lined up, before planting their organic potatoes. This became even more important, once we learned that Potandon Produce leaders had made the decision to discontinue sourcing organic potatoes from Idaho growers. The company continues to buy organic potatoes from other states, and our team member from Potandon Produce hopes the company will begin sourcing from Idaho growers again in the near future. In 2008, there were roughly 800 additional organic potato acres compared to the first half of the 2000s, resulting in a reduction in 101,600 pounds of pesticides. In 2009, only 160 additional acres were grown, reducing pesticide use by 20,300 pounds. The majority of the reduction in pesticide use comes from soil fumigants. Some of the new growers produce both organic and conventional potatoes and have reported using various organic management practices also on their conventional potato acres. This also contributes to the further reduction in pesticide use.
2. The project team included NCAP’s project coordinator Dr. Miller; Keith Esplin, executive director with the Potato Growers of Idaho; Paul Patterson and Kathleen Painter, economists with the University of Idaho; and Jeff Bragg, product development director with Potandon Produce. They provided trainings for 36 farmers and agricultural consultants interested in transition to organic potato production. Questions often focused on the availability of markets, buyer contacts, pricing, fertility management, and insect and weed control. As a result of these market questions, Keith Esplin prepared an assessment of the challenges for expanding organic potato markets and the need for developing the processing market. Mr. Esplin’s assessment was based upon the presentations and discussions at the project’s November 2008 marketing workshop, along with conversations with numerous growers. The assessment shows that the current barrier for expanding organic potato production in Idaho is the lack of markets for processed potatoes. Potato farmers who have recently transitioned to organic must sell much of their crop into conventional channels or as organic dairy feed, since there is no organic processed potato market. Mr. Esplin shared the assessment with the Idaho Potato Commission to encourage them to assist in developing and expanding the market for Idaho organic potatoes. In August 2009, we distributed this assessment, as well as production information and results from an organic potato buyer survey, to 350 potato farmers, other farmers, and agricultural professionals who attended our trainings in the last few years. The newsletter is available at www.pesticide.org/OrganicPotatoUpdate-Summer2009.pdf.
3. As a result of the training provided through the two organic potato field days described below, 13 growers committed to updating their organic potato production plans. Twenty of the participants at the organic markets workshop committed to updating their organic potato production and marketing plans based on what they learned.