November/December 2013
Aloha from Hawaii By Bill Schaefer

Hawaii has become the hub for winter grow out of seed potatoes. Four more certified seed potato organizations, Idaho, Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin, will be joining Montana and Minnesota on the north shore of Oahu for certified seed tests.

It’s going to be a crowded and busy winter grow season for Milton Agader and Al Medrano, the owners of Twin Bridge Farms, in the Aloha State.

Montana has been coming to Twin Bridge Farms since 2001. Nina Zidack, director of Montana’s seed potato certification program, said that the farm is an excellent location because of the quick turnaround from planting to testing for Potato Virus Y (PVY).

Forty days after planting our potatoes we can perform visual inspections and pick leaves for virus testing,” Zidack said. “In Hawaii the plants grow extremely fast. You have a short window for observations and for leaf sampling.”

Mike Horken, potato program supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, estimated that Minnesota has been going to Hawaii between 12 and 15 years.

Horken described the growing conditions in Hawaii as “optimal” with excellent turnaround results.

Alan Westra moved to Idaho this summer to work for the Idaho Crop Improvement Association (ICIA). Westra is the ICIA southeast area manager and is responsible for Idaho seed certification. For the past 11 years Westra had been the manager of the New York Seed Improvement project at Cornell University.

“If I had to put it in one line: The intent is to provide better customer service,” Westra said of Idaho’s decision to move their winter grow out from the Imperial Valley in southern California. For more than 30 years Idaho had used three southern California sites for its winter grow out.

Westra cited two factors in ICIA’s decision to move. One is Hawaii’s frost-free climate and the second was the quick turnaround from planting to getting results.

Kent Sather, manager of the Colorado Potato Certification Service, said that they were leaving Yuma, Ariz., and returning to Hawaii because of inconsistent results in Yuma.

Sather said that one year they had no results because of two frosts and at other times the grow out suffered frost damage that would set the results back to late February or March.

Sather said that he’s looking forward to discussing not only disease issues but also management issues with his colleagues during their time in Hawaii.

Both Michigan and Wisconsin are moving their winter grow outs from Homestead, Fla., where the state of Maine owns the farm.

Jeff Axford, executive director of the Michigan Seed Potato Association, and Alex Crockford, program director of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification program, both said that increased land rent in Florida forced both organizations to re-evaluate the costs, resulting in both states making the decision to move to Hawaii.

“It was a financial decision,” Axford said. “I don’t want to badmouth Maine. They’ve always been great to work with and I’m going to miss those guys but it was an executive decision.”

Another consideration for Axford and the Michigan growers is the frost-free climate in Hawaii.

“We’ve been frozen once and nipped two or three times in Homestead,” Axford said.

Axford cited the growing conditions in Hawaii as one more reason for the move.

“The growing season is about 10 days ahead of what we would be in Florida,” Axford said. “In Florida we would plant the middle of Nov. and the plants are ready right after the holidays. In Hawaii we can plant the end of Nov. and the plants are ready at the end of the holidays.”

Axford said that in the past Michigan has worked closely with the Wisconsin group in sharing transportation and when Wisconsin made the move to Hawaii, Michigan decided it was in their best interests also to move to Hawaii.

Crockford said another economic factor was that Twin Bridge Farms supplies the labor.

“Previously we brought five or six of our own people to do the work,” Crockford said.

Crockford said that with the later planting date Wisconsin growers will enjoy an extra week to get their samples in for testing.

Is there a downside to having so many state-certified grow outs in one place? Only if there were a catastrophic weather event during the grow outs, Zidack said. However, Zidack sees the consolidation of grow outs in one place as a boon.

“I think it’s going to be good for the industry, Zidack said. “For people buying seed potatoes it will give them an opportunity in Hawaii to visually inspect the seed lots. I think overall the industry is going to get very good information from Hawaii.”

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