Organic Potato Variety Trial in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Final Report for FNC13-941

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $2,245.77
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Michael Wixtrom
Wixtrom Natural Farms
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Project Information

Summary:
Final report on Organic Potato variety trials

This is the final report for our Organic potato variety trials.  It centers on post-harvest work and follows the potatoes right thru the store and into the consumer’s hands.

Introduction:

Organic Potato variety trials taste testing results

In this report, we will show the results of the taste testing that we did in cooperation with the Marquette Food Coop, in Marquette, Michigan, where they were marketed.

Project Objectives:
Why a taste testing trial?

Unlike most commercial farm experiments that only center around field conditions, yield, and the bottom line, with little regard for the health of the consumer, our trials included a taste testing with the general public.  It is the culmination of the project, as we feel that if the consumer does not like what is put on the store shelves, farmers should change and grow what people like.  This trial data was used to determine what consumers like, which we in turn will use to determine what to plant in the future.  
 
The results were a pleasant surprise for the Organic Industry.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jim Isleib
  • Matt Wixtrom
  • Mike Wixtrom
  • Rachel Wixtrom

Research

Materials and methods:
In-Store customer survey

The in-store taste testing trial was conducted at the Marquette Food Coop, where they were sold.
 
The farmer came up with a list of around 10 questions of areas of interest in the data collecting process for use in future years.  The list was given to the Produce Manager, Sarah Goodman, who in turn edited it and tweaked it into a half sheet survey that went into the Potato display area.  The final survey had 7 questions of interest in data collection in a consumer friendly format.  

The Potatoes to be tested were marked as “Variety Trial Special” and the surveys were placed close to them and consumers were encouraged to fill out the surveys.  The staff was instucted to promote the event to all shoppers and several “give aways “and” incentives” were employed by the farmer and the store to encourage participation.

Research results and discussion:
Taste Testing Trial Results

The first two questions on Flavor and Appearance, the customer voted on a scale from 1-5. One meaning they didnt like it and Five meaning they Loved it.  

Adirondack Blue

1 Person taste tested these potatoes and gave the following information:

Flavor: 5
Appearance:  4
How well did it store:  1 Week
What did you think about the size: Just Right
Preferred way to cook this variety:  Bake
What would the ideal Package Size:  4lb or 5lb
Would you buy this variety again:  Yes

Desiree

1 Person taste tested these potatoes and gave the following information:

Flavor: 5
Appearance:  5
How well did it store:  2 Weeks
What did you think about the size: Larger
Preferred way to cook this variety:  Boil
What would the ideal Package Size:  3lbs
Would you buy this variety again:  Yes

Green Mountain

1 Person taste tested these potatoes and gave the following information:

Flavor: 5
Appearance:  2
How well did it store:  Used Right Away
What did you think about the size: Larger
Preferred way to cook this variety:  Bake, Fry or Steam
What would the ideal Package Size:  1lbs
Would you buy this variety again:  Yes

Purple Sun

2 People taste tested these potatoes and gave the following information:

Flavor: 5 and 5
Appearance:  5 and 4
How well did it store:  Used Right Away and 1 week
What did you think about the size: Both said Just Right
Preferred way to cook this variety:  Both said Bake
What would the ideal Package Size:  4lbs and 4 or 5lbs
Would you buy this variety again:  Both said Yes

Canela Russet

2 People taste tested these potatoes and gave the following information:

Flavor: 5 and 5
Appearance:  5 and 4
How well did it store:  Used Right Away and 1 week
What did you think about the size: Both said Just Right
Preferred way to cook this variety:  Bake/Mash, Mash/Steam/Boil
What would the ideal Package Size:  3lbs and 2lbs
Would you buy this variety again:  Both said Yes

German Butterball

5 People taste tested these potatoes and gave the following information:

Flavor: 5,5,4,5,5
Appearance:  5,4,5,4,5
How well did it store:  2weeks, 3 weeks, 4+ weeks, Used right away, Used right away
What did you think about the size: Just Right, Larger, Just Right, Just Right, Just Right
Preferred way to cook this variety:  Mash/Boil, Mash, Fry, Boil, Saute
What would the ideal Package Size:  3lb or 5lb, 2lb, 5lb, 2lb, 5lb
Would you buy this variety again:  Everyone said Yes

There were no results from Reba, King Harry or Elba

Impact of Results/Outcomes

What we learned from the survey results

  1. Flavor – The overwhelming results in this survey are that everyone loves the flavor of organic potatoes.
  2. Appearance – This was also very positive results, except with Green Mountain, which are prone to mishapes.
  3. Storage – This was amusing as results were all over the board and many people could not resist eating them right away, so no chance to test the storage qualities of them.
  4. Size – Consumers also liked the size and generally said just right or larger would be better. 
  5. Cooking – This was another amusing observation.  Everyone had their own way to cook them and it shows the versatility of the potato, not to mention the choice of variety lend themselves to multi purpose uses.
  6. Package size – This is important to note for the commercial grower, since it seems to be a trend to smaller packaging, as many chose the 2 – 5lb range.
  7. Repeat Sales – An excellent review of our potatoes, and shows the demand for chemical free/organic produce.  A very good compliment to the organic grower, as everyone said they would buy them again.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:
Research and Education Results

Results of this project should be available from MSU Extension Office, Wixtrom Natural Farm Records and the SARE program.  

We want to give a big Thanks to Jim Isleib, Upper Peninsula Crop Production Educator from MSU Extension, for his assistance from start to finish on this project.

We also want to Thank the Marquette Food Co-op for their cooperation with this project, namely, Natasha Lantz, Community Liaison and Sarah Goodman, Produce Manager.

We are also Thankful for all the individuals who helped with planting and harvesting etc..

Without all these individuals this project would not have been possible.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Organic Potato Variety Trial Conclusions

This was a very interesting project and had its challenges especially in regards to weather and field conditions during the growing season.  As the weather did not cooperate and we tested on dry land conditions, with no irrigation, yields were not necessarily representative of all organic growers, however, there is still much we can learn from them.  As different varieties responded to field conditions differently, we did conclude that King Harry was an excellent choice for repelling Colorado Potato Beetles.

We concluded from the taste testing trials that people loved the Chemical Free Organic Potatoes and everyone would buy them again, indicating a big demand for healthy food.  Aside from that, we learned that people have their own preferences and marketing must be in line to accomodate a wide variety of these preferences.

Future Recommendations

Education on Organic Potato Farmers

This project is the result of the lack of research that we found in the organic community on organic potatoes.  We found a lot of information by commercial growers for commercial potatoes, but found very little for organic potatoes.  Hence,  the idea for this project.

We hope that the results that we have here will be useful to all those who are interested in organic potatoe growing.  It was an interesting project and one that will provide us with many fond memories in the years to come.

Thank you SARE for providing the funds for us to make this possible.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.