Promoting Sustainable Potato Cropping Systems

2003 Annual Report for SW02-037

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $158,477.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $24,990.00
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Bryan Hopkins
University of Idaho

Promoting Sustainable Potato Cropping Systems


BMPs – Sustainable Potato Cropping Systems

Comparisons of Best Management Practices, or BMPs, (based on judicious inputs focusing on sustainability) to Maximum Yield Management, or MYM, (based on “insurance” inputs targeting maximum yield) were completed in five Pacific Northwest fields. The BMP plots yielded similarly to the MYM plots at the Idaho locations, while the Oregon and Washington sites showed increased yields with MYM. However, the BMPs resulted in the same or greater net profit in all five fields for a fresh market contract and four fields for a process contract. These results were highlighted at three field days and several radio and trade publication interviews.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. Compile a written and a web-based guideline of Best Management Practices for Sustainable Potato Cropping Systems in the Pacific Northwest.

    Refine the existing Ag Input computer spreadsheet into a user-friendly, stand-alone computer program that empowers growers to make informed decisions regarding fertilizer and pesticide inputs based on economics and sustainability.

    Assess initial and ending level of adoption of best management practices (BMPs) through in-person appraisal of 40 producers’ operations and a larger number of growers through the evaluation module of the interactive web-based guideline (see objective #1).

    Conduct on-farm field demonstrations with producers and publicize detailed case studies of these “model” growers’ successful implementation of sustainable BMPs.

    Stage an annual “Advanced Potato Production Workshop” featuring BMPs and crop, nutrient, soil, water, and pest management fundamentals.

    Facilitate farmer-to-farmer roundtable discussions to discuss success experiences, as well as obstacles encountered, during the implementation of sustainable BMPs.


  1. Five field demonstrations in 2003 highlighted “model” growers in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington that successfully follow Best Management Practices (BMPs). These growers are unique in that they produce high yields of good quality potatoes without excessive inputs of fertilizer and chemicals.

    Comparisons were made in each of the five demonstration fields by evaluating plots with relatively higher rates of fertilizer and pesticides. Three of the fields showed similar yields when comparing the BMP plots with the high inputs. The high inputs produced more yield in the other two fields, but the increased revenue did not cover the increased expenses. These results showed that the BMPs were more economical in all cases for fresh market potatoes and in four out of five cases for process contract potatoes.

    Four field days were conducted to highlight the project and the results. Over 200 farmers, agronomists, and press were in attendance.

    The results have been disseminated in a UI news release and several trade journal and newspaper articles and have been presented at four grower meetings (workshops and roundtables) with over 250 in attendance.

    The Best Management Practices for Sustainable Potato Production guide is currently being written. Although delayed, the Potato Production Systems book has been published in cooperation with 28 potato scientists. This book is serving as the basis for the more concise BMP guide. Several chapters have already been summarized and are ready for print and web publication. The computer-based evaluation program is also under development, but awaiting final guidelines based on the BMP publication.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Although this project is in its early stages, it is already making a substantial impact on growers. The Potato Cropping System R&E Program in Idaho has several projects, but more inquires from both the press and from growers have been made in the last 12 months regarding this project than all others combined.

The Sustainable Potato project has been highlighted four times in the Ag Network with over 50 regional radio stations. Ten interview articles have been published in local and national trade journals and newspapers. An invited presentation was given at the Hermiston (Oregon) Farm Fair. The project has also been highlighted in poster format at the Eastern Idaho State Fair and the Potato Association of America annual meetings. The principles behind BMPs have been discussed with several grower groups.

More importantly, several individual growers and their farm managers are contacting the project leaders to have their farms evaluated. Reductions in fertilizer and pesticide inputs are planned for over 20,000 acres thus far.

The only difficulty being experienced with this project is that grower interest seems to be ahead of the system for evaluation. The cooperators on this project are working diligently to solve this problem in developing a software-based system that will help farmers evaluate potential improvements for their operations. However, this process involves over two dozen scientists and specialists and is very complex. It is more important to produce a useful, accurate tool rather than prematurely putting something out just to meet demand. In the meantime, growers expressing interest are met with on a one-to-one basis.

It is anticipated that a much larger number of acres will be impacted as interested farmers realize that they can produce an equivalent crop with less fertilizer and pesticide input. This will reduce the overall risk potentially associated with these products, reduce risk of developing biological resistance to pesticides, and increase sustainability of both the land and the rural way of life.


Jason Ellsworth

Soil Fertility Specialist
University of Idaho
Twin Falls, ID
George Newberry

Washington State University
Pullman, WA
Robert Thornton

Potato Specialist
Washington State University
Pullman, WA
Nora Olsen

Potato Specialist
University of Idaho
Twin Falls, ID
Gale Harding

Madison County Extension Educator
University of Idaho
Rexburg, ID
Brad Geary

Brigham Young University
Provo, UT
Mark Pavek

Extension/Research Horticulturist
Washington State University
Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
PO Box 646414
Pullman, WA 99164-6414
Office Phone: 5093352989
Don Horneck

Extension Agronomist
Oregon State University
Hermiston Agricultural Research & Extension Center
PO Box 105
Hermiston, OR 97838
Office Phone: 5415676337