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Investing in the Future

An investment in the future of the potato industry is how John Keeling likens the National Potato Council’s (NPC) academic scholarship. Both the NPC and Syngenta have made annual scholarship awards specific to the potato industry this past year.

Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the NPC, said that the NPC is “proud to invest in graduate-level students who not only have a passion for agriculture but have the talents to advance the potato industry. By helping grad students afford their tuition, NPC is putting a down payment on tomorrow’s industry leaders.”

Rhett Spear

NPC’s $10,000 academic scholarship for 2013-2014 was presented to Rhett Spear, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Horticulture at Washington State University (WSU).

Spear is just completing a three-year research project that has focused on identifying new fresh-pack varieties as alternatives to Russet Norkotah. The Russet Norkotah is currently the leading fresh-pack variety but it is susceptible to potato virus Y. He hopes to be defending his doctoral dissertation next year.

“I’m working with the Tri-State variety development program,” Spear said while describing his research project. “They’re still numbered varieties. We’ve put them in this trial and looked at the yields, quality and value.”

Spear grew up in Raft River. He is the oldest of five children and the only boy. His parents, Rulon and Kathleen Spear, have a 1,500-acre farm in southern Idaho, where they grow sugar beets, spring wheat, alfalfa and occasionally corn and beans.

“I got my potato education at Washington State University,” Spear said. His graduate adviser at WSU, Mark Pavek, is a former NPC scholarship recipient for 2002-2003.

He and his wife, Aria, are the parents of three girls, Jenae, 4, Brooke, 2 and Kylie, 6 months.

“The scholarship helps with living costs, school and it helps pay the rent,” Spear said.

“I’d actually like to work in the industry, at least for a while, and then come back and teach,” Spear said.

Applications for the 2014-2015 academic scholarship will be accepted from May 1 through June 14, 2014. Download an application at the NPC website.

This is the fourth year that Syngenta has awarded its $5,000 Potato Scholarship. This year’s recipient is Katie McKenna, of Mapleton, Maine.

McKenna, 18, is a freshman currently studying biology pre-med at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

Living in Maine’s Aroostook County, McKenna spent many a fall helping with the potato harvest.

McKenna said that she heard about the scholarship from her 4-H advisor.

Her winning essay was about marketing potatoes toward athletes, focusing on the nutritional and healthy aspects of potatoes.

McKenna is the daughter of Mark and Lisa McKenna. She has two brothers, Ben, 21 and Matthew, 16, and one sister, Laura, 13.

This past November Syngenta announced a new national scholarship program available to undergraduate students in all crop markets.

Syngenta is replacing the potato, sugar beet and almond scholarships with the new national award.

Syngenta will announce the details sometime in January, 2014. For more information go to http://www.syngenta.com

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— By Bill Schaefer, editor

Originally posted Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013

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