Potatoes are an important crop in Washington state, creating $7.4 million in economic activity and 35,000 jobs from value-added processing and exports. That makes spuds one of the state’s most important crops, and Washington State University leaders want to see that crop continue to flourish.
The crop is so important that WSU announced it has launched new research in support of the state’s potato growers. Partnering with industry leaders, the university has created a new distinguished endowed chair in soil health for potato cropping systems. Backed by a fund of more than $3 million created by potato growers, processors and suppliers, the new chair will address priorities in irrigated agriculture, including the need to better understand and protect the soil. A national search for a top scientist will begin this year to fill the position.
Scot Hulbert, associate dean for research at WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), notes that the new chair “will address a challenge of major importance to the potato industry — how to manage soil health and protect the vital ecosystem that allows us to grow healthy, high-quality potatoes.”
He adds that a better understanding of how to manage the health and productivity of soil will improve the sustainability of potato farming, and ultimately the financial sustainability of growers in the Pacific Northwest.
Focus of the work
The industry-created endowment will develop an applied research program that closely collaborates with other Pacific Northwest researchers at the University of Idaho, Oregon State University and USDA as well as potato growers and processors. It will complement other research and Extension efforts by WSU and its statewide Soil Health Program to develop improved methods and tools for monitoring and managing soil health.
The new chair will join the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, home to much of CAHNRS’ cropping systems and soil science research.
The Columbia Basin Soil Health for Potato Cropping Systems Working Group led development of the endowment. Made up of industry leaders from AgriNorthwest, Corteva Agriscience, J.R. Simplot Co., Lamb Weston, McCain Foods, Oregon Potato Co., Stahl Hutterian Brethren, TriCal Soil Solutions and the Washington State Potato Commission, the group will help WSU scientists prioritize research in potato production.
Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, notes the state’s growing conditions, including its soil, “contribute to our state having the highest potato yields in the world. Understanding the biology of our soils is vital to the long-term viability of potato farming in Washington.”
The distinguished endowed chair will be based on the Pullman campus, with field research being conducted in the Columbia Basin.