Partnerships, Teamwork, and Persistence Bring New Potato Varieties

Hundreds of new, promising, numbered (unnamed) potato genotypes are evaluated at research station and farm sites each year. Ohio State is one of many institutions involved. In 2021, we are evaluating more than 100 numbered selections from four breeding programs against seven standard industry varieties. The same evaluation techniques we use can be employed by individual vegetable farms.

High-performing varieties are just one of the core raw materials for vegetable production, which also relies on water, mined or manufactured inputs and equipment, and the know-how to use all of them. Whether formal or informal, variety evaluation is essential for individual growers and the vegetable industry. Since now is when differences among varieties of individual crops begin to show themselves on farms and research stations, it’s a good time to discuss traits and processes used to evaluate varieties.

When we evaluate genotypes of potato being considered for naming and release as varieties, we score plant maturity and record total and marketable yield and more than ten tuber characteristics for each entry (e.g., tuber size and shape, skin color and texture, flesh color, eye depth, incidence of internal defects, and specific gravity and chip color). Collaborators in other states evaluate the same genotypes for pest and disease resistance, crop tolerance to heat stress, storage effects on tuber quality, and tuber cooking quality and sensory properties. So, like for other vegetables, developing potato varieties requires teamwork.

Background on the Variety Development Process

Experimental genotypes originate in public-sector breeding programs based at universities and the USDA. In fact, although varieties developed by private companies (e.g., major processors) contribute significantly, the U.S. potato industry (especially the fresh/tablestock and chip sectors) has long relied on varieties developed in the public sector. Public-sector varieties are developed by large teams led by universities, USDA, and/or state industry associations or organizations and account for most of the available varieties, acreage, and value of production.

Whether public or private, variety development teams include breeders/geneticists, agronomists/horticulturalists, plant pathologists, entomologists, food scientists, farmers, processors, and people with expertise in related areas.

Potato varieties are named, released, and made available for commercial use only after years of comprehensive, widespread testing, beginning with just a few plants and concluding at farm scale. Once released, varieties support processing (i.e., chip, fry), fresh market/tablestock, and/or breeding programs. The varieties ‘Atlantic’ (released in 1976), ‘Dark Red Norland’ (1957), ‘Katahdin’ (1932), ‘Kennebec’ (1948), ‘Red LaSoda’ (1953), ‘Superior’ (1962), and ‘Yukon Gold’ (1981) are just a few examples of public-sector varieties that have been planted to many thousands of acres over decades of production. Varieties like these set the bar for and/or are found in the “family trees” of newer, increasingly popular varieties.

Still, markets, production conditions, and industry factors change continuously. Therefore, variety development must be ongoing and once-popular varieties are eventually displaced by new, more farmer-, processor-, and consumer-friendly ones. The process is designed to enhance industry success and consumer satisfaction.

Evaluation is nearly continuous since sites are located throughout the U.S. and the process begins before planting and ends long after harvest. Groups based in the East, Midwest/Upper Midwest, West and Pacific Northwest, and South often coordinate the work. Ohio State and Ohio farmers and processors have participated annually for more than fifty years. We emphasize the evaluation of genotypes originating in eight breeding programs and with potential value in fresh and chip markets and have contributed to the release of multiple varieties used in Ohio and elsewhere.

Sharing Results

Data from our 2021 trials will be summarized in a report available at https://u.osu.edu/vegprolab/technical-reports/ with data from 2020 and previous years available at https://neproject.medius.re/trials/potato/ne1731 and https://neproject.medius.re/. Later, we will join team members from Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and USDA and industry partners to discuss evaluation outcomes and begin selecting new entries and others to be evaluated again or dropped from the program. With information reflecting variety or experimental selection performance in the field and on the plate, the breeder and team have key information when making the thumb-up/thumb-down decision on each entry.

Still, for all crops, the performance of each variety (or experimental genotype) hinges on how it is managed, the know-how allowing growers to get the most from each variety. Planting and harvest dates, plant populations (spacings), irrigation and fertility programs, etc. influence variety performance and, therefore, whether a grower will select the variety again. So far, potato genotype evaluations at Ohio State have been completed without irrigation and this approach has clearly affected tuber yield and quality. We are rethinking this approach and look forward to speaking with vegetable and potato growers about their use of irrigation.

What are You and Others You Hear from Willing to Pay for New Farming Technology?

Technology surrounds us and is often defined as: “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry” and “machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge.” Whether by definition or experience, it’s clear that vegetable production requires a lot of technology. Hybrid varieties and clean lots of true-to-type seed, seed coatings and treatments, the many crop inputs (e.g., fertilizers, protectants), small and large pieces of machinery and equipment … the list is long and growing. Each technology growers rely on has its own characteristics and pros and cons of use. Therefore, it’s important to be clear on what you are willing to pay for a technology and what others (e.g., advisors, educators) say about it. Helping develop and people to use new technology effectively is a big part of my job. In recent years, I have tested and advised people on high tunnel, grafting, microbe-containing crop biostimulant, and other technologies. So, what growers like and dislike about these and other technologies and are willing to pay for them is important to me, too. Growers and others provide key information, sometimes in scientific reports. A report describing peoples’ perspectives on biodegradable mulch (BDM) caught my attention recently. It is useful in two ways. First, it includes important information on BDM, an emerging technology. Second, it can help guide similar evaluations of other technologies and, perhaps, products.

The report was published by a team of investigators led by Kuan-Ju Chen (University of Guam) and including partners at Washington State University, Colorado State University, and Massey University (New Zealand). The report is available at https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTTECH04518-20 or from Dr. Chen or me by request.

The team’s specific objective was to assess peoples’ willingness to pay (WTP) for BDM characteristics. More broadly, they wanted to understand how ‘green’ technologies affect agricultural production when they are introduced into the market. Using input from farmers, educators, advisors, and others, the team assessed the WTP for adopting BDMs and peoples’ rankings of the relative importance of different BDM characteristics. The input indicated that study participants were willing to pay a statistically significant premium for healthy soil and a lower fraction of plastic residue left in the field after harvest. The data also indicated that farmers and others ranked the attributes of BDMs differently. In this case, attributes included cost, soil health, plastic residue, and consumer premium.

People interested in BDM may wish to examine the report closely or contact me, the authors, or BDM experts about it. People considering investments in a technology (new or old) or advising people on one may wish to review the report as an example of how willingness to pay assessments are completed.

How Do You Maintain the Health – Quality – Productivity of Soils in Your High Tunnel(s)?

Growers are increasingly impacted by and/or interested in learning how to prevent declines in the health, quality, or productivity of soils in their high tunnels. More are experiencing or aware that various biotic and abiotic issues threaten crop yield and quality and farm income. As some have learned, increases in nematode populations, disease inoculum, salinity, nutrient deficiencies/excesses/imbalances, and/or compaction or reductions in soil structure can be troublesome. Thankfully, a comprehensive effort is underway to help understand and address soil health/productivity-related challenges in high tunnel production. Sponsored by the USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative and coordinated by Dr. Krista Jacobsen of the University of Kentucky, researchers with different expertise and extension specialists are documenting grower concerns and practices and charting a path leading to greater grower success. The OSU and five other universities are also currently involved. Team members recently hosted a focus group of eight growers from the Great Lakes (including Ohio) and will hear from more in other regions soon. Growers in the recent focus group represented a range of experience, size of operation, crops grown, typical number of annual production seasons (1-4), and overall farming approach (conventional, organic). Collectively, they shared concerns with issues referenced earlier and gave special attention to others such as the effects of high tunnel soils going extremely dry fall-to-spring unless watered (with or without also being cropped). Interestingly, this observation and concern lines up with the view shared by Dr. Bruce Hoskins of the University of Maine that high tunnel production is like “irrigated desert production in the west and southwest,” and that “failing to realize or take steps to address potential problems because of this” can be detrimental (see VegNet article Feb. 20, 2021). In any case, the recent conversation with growers was a reminder of: (1) potential causes of declines in (high tunnel) soil productivity (examples are listed below), (2) innovative steps growers and researchers are taking to limit the problem, and (3) benefits of addressing the complex problem through partnerships. It also prompted me to ask myself what I am doing to maintain the productivity of soils in my high tunnels. Maybe it will do the same for you!

The health-quality-productivity of soils used in vegetable production, including in high tunnels, can decline for many reasons. Some major ones are listed below in no particular order.

1. Repeated or excessive use of a potentially narrow range of fertilizers, various chemicals, and other soil amendments.
2. Vegetable plants often having relatively small and shallow root systems (compared to other annual crops) and crops returning relatively little residue to the soil.
3. Short rotations with few crops.
4. Placing frequent pressure on and aggressively disturbing soil, especially when it is wet.
5. In high tunnels, relatively unique and potentially extreme temperature and moisture profiles.

Grower Survey to Assess Herbicide Drift Damage in the North Central U.S.

 

Midwest specialty crop growers are encouraged to participate in the current herbicide drift damage survey. The study seeks to document the frequency, severity, management, and economic impact of drift damage among specialty crop growers in the North Central U.S. Even if you have not experienced drift damage, your input will be helpful in determining risk factors.

If you haven’t already done so, please take the time right now to complete this survey at go.osu.edu/driftsurvey21

The survey should take 5-20 minutes depending on your personal experience with herbicide drift. Results will help document needs for related research, education, or policy review around herbicide drift and drift management.

For more information on the study and resources on managing drift risk, please visit go.osu.edu/ipm-drift.

 

Limiting Bird Damage in Sweet Corn

Bird damage in sweet corn and other specialty crop production can be significant and those affected by it need different types of effective solutions. Some are described in articles and publications such as https://vegetablegrowersnews.com/article/some-tips-to-curb-bird-damage-in-specialty-crops/, https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/preventing-bird-damage, and https://rvpadmin.cce.cornell.edu/uploads/doc_691.pdf. Still, the search for additional farm-ready ‘tools in the toolbox’ continues. A team led by the University of Rhode Island is working with growers in the Northeast and other regions to better understand the extent of the problem and success of current control measures. Consider completing their very brief (5-minute) survey at https://uri.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8qBBeU2HAIwcKYl to help inform and get the most from the team’s work.

 

Grower Survey to Assess Herbicide Drift Damage in the North Central U.S.

A special project group of the North Central Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Center wants to learn about your concerns and experiences with herbicide drift. The group is surveying growers of fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops in the upper Midwest.

To truly understand the frequency, severity, and economic impact of herbicide drift on specialty crops, we need to hear from growers: growers who have experienced drift damage, growers who can share their concerns around this issue, and even growers who have not dealt with drift but who grow sensitive crops in drift-prone regions. Survey responses are needed to establish herbicide drift as a serious economic and regulatory concern in Ohio and across our region.

Please complete the survey at go.osu.edu/drift21.

Who should take this survey?
The study is for commercial growers of fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops in IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, or WI. Even if you have never experienced herbicide damage, we would still like to hear from you if you grow specialty crops in one of these states.

Why is this survey necessary?
Dicamba and 2,4-D drift damage has made headlines in recent years, but no study to-date has attempted to quantify the overall impact drift has on the specialty crop industry. While all states have a way for growers to file a drift complaint, the process and requirements are inconsistent and may involve time and information that a grower does not have. In most states, for instance, the source of the drift must be identified. Research has found that dicamba and 2,4-D both have the potential to travel for miles in specific weather conditions, making source identification difficult.

What good will this survey do?
This study is designed to assess the potential and actual frequency of drift damage, along with the severity and economic impact of such damage. The survey includes questions on grower awareness, experience, actions, and decisions related to herbicide drift and drift-risk management. The responses will help establish needs for research on drift mechanisms, prevention, and remediation; and/or the need to review current policy and reporting requirements.

How long will it take?
The survey takes 5-20 minutes to complete, depending on your experience with drift damage.

How will this data be shared?
Summarized survey data will be shared broadly with regulatory agencies, university educators and researchers, agricultural policy makers, grower support organizations, and the general public using news articles, report summaries, and peer-reviewed journal articles. While this study is administered by The Ohio State University, it was planned in partnership with industry experts across the region who will assist with sharing results. Participants may also request a copy of the study summary.

How will my data be used and protected?
Your privacy is important. No individual survey data will be released or shared beyond the limited group of project staff. The survey questions and procedures have been reviewed by the institutional review board at The Ohio State University and are designed to protect your data and identity. Additional details on privacy and confidentiality are provided at the beginning of the survey.

How can I learn more?
The North Central IPM Center’s special project group created a series of fact sheets on herbicide drift especially for specialty crop growers. The series includes: Overview of Dicamba and 2,4-D Drift Issues, Frequently Asked Questions, Preparing for Drift Damage, and Responding to Drift Damage. Fact sheets and more information about our special project group and study are available at go.osu.edu/ipm-drift.

This study is facilitated by The Ohio State University and is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through agreement 2018-70006-28884.This study is being conducted in cooperation with regional universities and non-profit grower organizations, including Ohio State Extension.

Soil Sampling and Analysis for High Tunnel Production

Installing a stationary high tunnel (HT) is a significant, long-term commitment to the parcel of soil beneath it, especially if the crops will grow directly in that soil. Maintaining, and preferably enhancing, the health, quality, or productivity of that soil for as long as possible should be a high priority beginning at HT installation.

Soils in HTs are less well understood than uncovered soils in “open sky”/open field production. However, the HT farming, extension-research, and industry communities are aware that HT soils are prone to specific issues and require specific care to remain commercially viable. These issues and preventative or reclamation tactics are the subject of much research and extension. Therefore, HT growers are encouraged to stay tuned for more information, including on how they can participate directly in identifying concerns and developing solutions. Examples of concerns and working solutions were summarized in a recent presentation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpUl0IwaDFI). Choosing one concern, in a summary of a presentation given at the 2013 New England Fruit and Vegetable Conference (https://newenglandvfc.org/sites/newenglandvfc.org/files/content/proceedings2013/Hoskins%20High%20Tunnel.pdf), Bruce Hoskins of the University of Maine’s Analytical Lab and Soil Testing Service mentions that the buildup of nutrient salts over time is “one of the most common problems in a continuously covered HT system,” that HT soil management can be similar to “irrigated desert production in the west and southwest,” and that growers familiar with open-field production can “fail to realize this potential problem or take steps to remediate it.” He also mentions that nitrate may carryover from one HT crop cycle to the next more readily than in open field production.

We heard from Bruce Hoskins and John Spargo during recent conversations about HT soil management. They direct soil testing and analytical labs at the University of Maine (https://umaine.edu/soiltestinglab/) and Penn State University (https://agsci.psu.edu/aasl), respectively. Each of these labs receives soil samples from hundreds of HT growers (conventional, organic) each year and have been actively helping improve soil management recommendations and cropping outcomes for HT growers. They have been joined in that work by others, including farmers, across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions for years.

Take-aways from these recent conversations include that routine soil testing is essential, along with accounting for potential nutrient salt buildup when collecting soil samples. Normally, samplers: 1) use a soil probe or spade to retrieve a column of soil about twelve inches deep, 2) drop the soil in a bucket, 3) repeat the process one or more times from other areas, 4) mix the soil in the bucket, and 5) submit a portion of it for analysis. Listening to testing and other experts, the best approach appears to include “stratified” sampling; that is, submitting samples taken from 0-4 inches deep (upper layer of the rooting zone) separately from samples taken from four inches and deeper (lower layer of the rooting zone). Salts tend to accumulate in upper layers, especially if soil is heavy-textured and irrigation is frequent but brief. So, standard “mixed” samples may either: (a) underestimate salt levels in upper layers of soil experienced by roots of transplants and more mature plants or (b) overestimate salt levels if samples include only the upper level. Stratified sampling, mindful that soil characteristics can change with depth, equips growers and others with information to better manage HT soils. Regarding the costs of soil testing, especially of stratified samples, input from soil testing labs suggests that few of the growers they work with mention it as a significant concern. Instead, most growers appear to have done their math and concluded that soil analysis offers a significant return on investment, given that its cost is more than offset by gains in crop yield and quality in the current and subsequent years.

Improving Success with Soil-less Rooting Media

Researchers representing the USDA and six universities are spearheading an effort to improve both soil-less rooting media used in specialty crop and transplant production and peoples’ success using soil-less media. Their research focuses on grower concerns and their extension/outreach will include a North American Soilless Substrate Summit. The team’s work is supported by the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative  (Grant # 2020-02629). Learn more about it by contacting Dr. James Owen in Wooster, OH (jim.owen@usda.gov; 757-374-8153) or Dr. Jeb Fields (jsfields@agcenter.lsu.edu; 985-543-4125). Just as important, help steer the team’s research by completing a 5-minute survey at https://bit.ly/2ZLNIkn.

Grafting, In-row Spacing, and Seasonal Nitrogen Application Rate Effects on Watermelon Yield and Quality

Growers, consultants, seed company representatives, and others have questions about watermelon management protocols, especially when grafted plants are used. The three panels below provide background on and summarize preliminary findings from two experiments on this topic completed in Wooster in 2020.

Please contact me at kleinhenz.1@osu.edu or 330.263.3810 for more information.

Optimizing Plant Spacing (Population) and Seasonal Nitrogen Rates in Grafted Watermelon Production

Data collection on fruit taken from two “grafted watermelon” experiments being completed at the OARDC in Wooster,OH has started. These experiments were outlined in VegNet posts on June 6 and July 11 and they are described in the image below, too.

Harvest 1 occurred on 8/19/20 with ‘Jade Star’ fruit harvest and analysis. The first harvest of ‘Fascination’ will be the week of 8/24 and a second harvest of each variety from both experiments is also planned. We assess the maturity of each fruit and its readiness for harvest using these criteria: a) yellow belly, b) dry vine tendril, c) developing longitudinal ridges, and d) white stripes brightening and widening (‘Fascination’). Occasionally, fruit weighing less than 8 lb meet one or more of these criteria, so they are harvested and photographed along with all other fruit from the same plot. Fruit weighing less than 8 lb are later separated from the group of fruit weighing more than 8 lb (marketable). In all pictures below, fruit are shown on a blue tarp slightly larger than 7 ft wide x 4 ft tall.

Pictures below are representative of what was observed in replicates 1-3 but conclusions should not be drawn from them. Data from Harvest 2 are needed to complete the picture and all data from 2020 must be analyzed along with data from previous years of the research (2018, 2019). On 8/19/20, in the “density” study, we observed that all four plots containing grafted plants produced a total of 12 fewer fruit than the four plots containing grafted plants at an in-row plant spacing of four feet. However, the situation was reversed at an in-row plant spacing of five feet since the four plots containing grafted plants produced a total of thirty-five more fruit than the four plots containing ungrafted plants at the same spacing.

The last planned fertilizer application (fertigation) in the “fertility” study was completed on 8/21/20. Two days before, the number of fruit taken from all twelve plots containing grafted plants was greater than the number of fruit taken from the twelve plots with ungrafted plants, regardless of seasonal nitrogen (N) rate. The difference in fruit number was greatest, moderate, and least at 75%, 100%, and 50% of the normal N rate, respectively. The pictures below are an example of the difference in fruit number at the standard N rate developed for watermelon production using ungrafted plants.

The experiments are being completed with USDA-SCRI program support and we look forward to sharing the results when the work is complete. In the meantime, please contact us (kleinhenz.1@osu.edu; 330.263.3810) for more information.