Research funding critical to success
By John Keeling
Executive Vice President & CEO
National Potato Council
America's agriculture industry didn't become the greatest in the world just because it was blessed with bountiful land and hard-working farmers; it rose to the top due in large part to our considerable and ongoing commitment to agriculture research.
For the potato industry, the importance of continuing this research commitment cannot be overstated. The application of research-driven production techniques and technologies has driven dramatic improvements in potato yields. Between 1990 and 2010, the per acre yield for U.S. fall harvested potatoes increased by over 70 percent, from 295 cwt to 410 cwt.
Unfortunately, vital research advances are in jeopardy as research and Extension positions are being cut at many state universities. It should come as no surprise then that in a 2011 national survey of potato growers conducted by the National Potato Council (NPC), 47 percent of respondents indicated they would be in favor of supporting out-of-state research projects should the results be applicable to their primary concerns.
And what concerns growers most? More than eight in 10
respondents said that diseases were in their top three concerns when asked to indicate the most important production problems facing their operations.
In fact, the challenge of disease so outweighed the other production problems that, when combined, the next two categories listed by respondents (soil health and insects, both at 41 percent) could barely surpass the number one concern.
Growers were then asked to select their top disease problems and indicate if currently available control options were adequate in addressing those challenges.
The survey indicated that atop the list of diseases demanding growers' attention are late blight, PVY, early blight and pink rot. However, while nearly 50 percent of the growers indicated they believe adequate control options are available for late blight and early blight, only 12 percent feel there are adequate control measures for PVY, and 22 percent for pink rot.
In the other top categories, growers ranked aphids and psyllids as the biggest insect problems, while broadleaf and nightshade were the most often-cited weed issues. They also indicated that psyllids and night shade present greater control problems than do aphids and broadleaf weeds.
Part of NPC's mission is to help the industry speak with one voice to policy makers in Washington, D.C., as they determine where to spend limited agriculture research dollars. This annual potato grower survey will provide NPC the feedback it needs as it works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to establish priorities for potato research and breeding funding.
Currently, NPC works with ARS and NIFA to help define grower priorities on more than $2.5 million in research grants directly targeted at developing solutions for potato diseases, pests and insects.
There is no more critical component to the future success of the industry than research. With continued pressure on available research funding, effectively prioritizing research is the key to continued improvements.
NPC will begin fielding our 2012 survey in March, and I encourage all growers to submit their feedback to help the industry understand where growers' research priorities lie, and were to concentrate our limited resources.