Promoting Sustainable Potato Cropping Systems

2004 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


Comparisons of sustainable best management practices or BMPs (based on judicious inputs focusing on environmental and economic sustainability) to maximum yield management or MYM (based on “insurance inputs” targeting maximum yield) were completed in five Pacific Northwest fields. The average BMP market yields were slightly less than the MYM (average 13 cwt/a increase), but, similar to the previous year, the cost of additional chemical and fertilizer inputs outweighed the yield increases in four of five fields evaluated (average $75/a loss). These results and the growers practicing BMPs 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. 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 Best Management Practices for Sustainable Potato Cropping Systems in the Pacific Northwest bulletin referred to in the first objective. This guide is written and published on the web ( and also, but hard copy publication is delayed in an agreement with UI Ag Communication Department (publisher of the aforementioned book) to minimize loss of book sales. Work that remains to done for objective one this coming year include refinement of the web guide and hard copy publication of the regional bulletin.

    The existing Ag Input computer spreadsheet has been modified into a more user-friendly, stand-alone electronic tool that empowers growers to make informed decisions regarding fertilizer and pesticide inputs based on economics and sustainability. This tool has been used in cooperation with 12 growers to help test its effectiveness as a means for improving farm and environmental sustainability. Various glitches have prevented widespread distribution, but it is planned to be released to the general public this coming year.

    Initial assessment of compliance with best management practices has been completed with 29 growers. It is planned to assess at least 11 other growers this coming year and then follow through with in-person appraisal of all participating growers for ending level of adoption. A larger number of growers will be assessed in future years through the evaluation module of the interactive web-based guideline.

    Field demonstrations in 2004 highlighted five “model” growers in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington that successfully follow BMPs. These growers produce high yields of good quality potatoes without excessive inputs of fertilizer and chemicals. In addition to the demonstration aspect of this project, formal research trial comparisons were made in each of the five by comparing the growers’ standard practices (BMP) with plots receiving relatively higher rates of fertilizer and pesticides. The BMP plots produced more marketable yield (28 cwt/a) in just one field and the relatively higher chemical and fertilizer inputs (MYM) resulted in marketable yield increases in four of the fields evaluated (9, 13, 19, and 50 cwt/a). However, the increased gross revenue due to the yield increases resulted in a net profit in just one field ($49/a). The other fields showed $0, $43, $50, and $208 per acre losses as a result of the added inputs. None of the five fields evaluated the previous year showed profits with the MYM. Five additional “model” growers will be highlighted with accompanying MYM vs. BMP trials in 2005.

    The first annual “Advanced Potato Production Workshop” (featuring BMPs and crop, nutrient, soil, water, and pest management fundamentals) was conducted with 28 growers/agronomists in attendance. In addition, three field days were conducted to highlight the project and the results with over 200 farmers, agronomists, and press in attendance. Furthermore, the results from this project have been disseminated in a UI news release and several trade journal and newspaper articles, and have been presented at three grower meetings (workshops and roundtables) with 98 in attendance. Further dissemination of these results and promotion of sustainable management ideas will be presented this coming year at field days and workshops, as well as in the popular press, radio, television, web sites, conference proceedings, and journal publications.

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 inquiries, from both the press and from growers, have been made in the last 24 months regarding this project than all others combined.

In the last year, this sustainable potato project has been highlighted or discussed in: 1) four interview articles in the popular press, 2) four press releases, 3) one proceedings publication, 4) one radio interview Northwest Ag Network (50+ regional radio stations), 5) one newsletter, 6) one magazine article, 7) two web pages, 8) two television interviews, and 9) 13 state/local grower meetings, including invited presentations at the Idaho, Oregon, and Washington potato conferences and field days.

More importantly, several individual growers and/or their farm managers/agronomists have met with the project leaders to have their farms evaluated for areas where improvements can be made. Judicious reductions in fertilizer and pesticide inputs have been documented on over 4,000 acres on seven farms, and grower meeting questionnaires indicate that changes on at least 25,000 acres are planned on other farms.

The main 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 than to prematurely put 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. Many growers have expressed interest in this concept and seem to agree in principle with the BMP approach. The problem for them is to overcome their feeling of safety with the status quo that has worked for them for many years. We are planning to work with a number of growers on a trial basis this coming year to enable them to try this change in management on a field or portion of a field. These efforts will reduce the overall risk potentially associated with excessive pesticide and fertilizer use, 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