MPIC Committee Sets Research Priorities

August 27, 2014     

The foundational strength of the Michigan potato industry during the 53 years of its assessment program has been research. The Michigan Potato Industry Commission’s Research Committee reviewed research priorities at its Aug. 7 meeting in conjunction with the Montcalm County Field Day and adopted an updated list. The 2014 annual research funding authorized by the Commission is $175,129.

Most of the current priorities are carryovers reflected in ongoing research. A new one added by the committee is that the breeding program should include consumer taste preferences among the many essential traits in varieties for the future. In addition, the committee believes that insecticide research dealing with Colorado potato beetle (CPB) should include a new emphasis on developing alternative management strategies.

Soil health has been a major priority in recent years and is the subject of a research initiative already well under way. It involves strategies to enhance fertility and soil microbial activity as well as studies on the effects of various crop rotations on soil quality. The Research Committee suggests that potential benefits of organic soil amendments also be investigated. The overall initiative is being coordinated by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers Drs. Willie Kirk, Kurt Steinke and Noah Rosenzweig. Dr. George Bird is funded for a related project to examine how different cover crops can improve soil quality. Dr. Steinke also has Commission funding specifically to develop improved soil fertility to boost yields. A Research Committee priority is improved use of water, phosphorus and nitrogen resources to enhance crop efficiency and sustainability.

Dr. Kirk heads the effort to reduce vine and tuber rotting in potatoes by using integrated management to improve control of foliar and seed- and soil-borne diseases. The prime focus is late blight, a subject of intense concern this year as a cool, wet growing season has fostered proliferation of the disease.

The Research Committee has also identified the need for new management strategies to control weeds, especially as invasive species appear.

The insecticide work, under the direction of Dr. Zsofia Szendrei, includes emerging pests but has its major concentration on CPB and the monitoring of its increasing resistance to the neonicotinoid compounds that have kept the insect in check for two decades. The neonicotinoid chemical group is under attack for an alleged role in declining bee populations although federal regulators have taken no restrictive action because of insufficient scientific evidence. The Research Committee sees the need for more alternative research in the face of changing dynamics in CPB control.

The committee’s suggestion for breeding new varieties with a consideration for taste preferences comes at a time when the food industry as a whole is assessing new consumer demographics as a younger generation gains income and is showing signs of deviating from past food-purchasing patterns. Dr. Dave Douches’s genetics-based variety development program will also continue to concentrate on other market-directed improvements such as storage performance, commercialization potential, resistance to insects and diseases including CPB and late blight, and reduced invertase levels to decrease acrylamide levels.

MSU’s Potato Specialist Chris Long in a related Commission-funded project is screening novel russet varieties for their production suitability in Michigan. He is also cooperating with Dr. Randy Beaudry of MSU’s Department of Horticulture to study managing seed respiration rates in storage environments to affect stem and tuber set in daughter plants.

The Commission continues to support research to boost the potato industry in the Upper Peninsula. It funds projects under the supervision of Chris Kapp at MSU’s Upper Peninsula Research and Education Center and has also secured a federal Specialty Crops Block Grant directed at improving soil health in the region’s potato fields.

“The industry’s strong research program is an outgrowth of strong grower participation in setting research priorities,” said Mike Wenkel, the Commission’s executive director. “The recent research meeting in Montcalm County is another example of how progressive our growers are in putting so much effort into this vital aspect of the industry, taking input from so many quarters and drawing up a solid plan for the future. All this bodes well for our industry’s future.”

The Weekly Potato Report