Promoting Sustainable Potato Cropping Systems

2005 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 three Pacific Northwest fields. The average BMP marketable yields were slightly more than the MYM (10 cwt/a), resulting in a two percent advantage for the BMPs in gross crop value. Adding the cost of the additional inputs increased the advantage to 4% in net return. These model growers were highlighted at a field day and several grower meetings, radio spots, and trade publications.

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.

2.) 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.

3.) 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).

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

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

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


1.) The Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Sustainable Potato Production regional publication has been available as a web-based publication with over 200 “hits” and informal printing and distribution to over 100 growers/agronomists. This publication has been revised in cooperation with 11 potato scientists from three different states representing the following disciplines: agronomy, crop science, soil science, pathology, entomology, weed science, nematology, physiology, irrigation engineering, and economics. This publication focuses on practices that enable growers to be economically viable while maintaining sustainability of the farm and soil and water resources. This publication is currently being reviewed and will be published as a Pacific Northwest Regional Extension Bulletin.

2.) It was originally planned to revise an existing Ag Input computer spreadsheet 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. However, it was recently decided to abandon this spreadsheet and, instead, work with a University of Idaho Ag Economist, Paul Patterson, to use a more versatile, existing Cost of Production software tool to accomplish the same purpose. This software has been adopted by the University of Idaho as a quasi official tool that is used to assist growers in evaluating production economics. Dozens of copies of this software on cd have been distributed to growers and agronomists. Three workshops are planned for the coming year in which growers will be walked through various scenarios that will help adopt BMPs.

3.) Initial and ending level assessment of grower compliance with BMPs has been completed with thirty-two growers. Initial level of adoption ranged from 38 to 72% with an average of 52%. Ending level of adoption ranged from 48 to 84% with an average of 63%. Furthermore, most all of the growers planned further changes in practices in future years. It is planned to assess several other growers at the workshops discussed in item number 2 above.

4.) Three field demonstrations were conducted, highlighting “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. In addition to the demonstration aspect of this project, formal research trial comparisons were made in each of the fields by comparing the growers’ standard practices (BMP) with plots receiving relatively higher rates of fertilizer and pesticides. Surprisingly, the BMP plots produced ten hundredweight per acre more than the plots with relatively higher chemical and fertilizer inputs (MYM). This increase in yield resulted in a two percent increase in gross crop value for the BMP plots. When the costs of the inputs were subtracted, a net increase of four percent was realized for the BMPs.

5.) The second annual “Advanced Potato Production Workshop” (featuring BMPs and crop, nutrient, soil, water, and pest management fundamentals) was conducted with 54 growers/agronomists in attendance. Several other workshops, where BMPs were presented/discussed, were presented with over 200 in attendance. In addition, a field day was conducted to highlight the project and BMPs, with over 150 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. BMPs and project findings are also published on a web page.

6.) A farmer-to-farmer roundtable discussion group, with 10 participants, has been conducted. The BMPs checklist was discussed, with suggestions for improvement from growers provided. Successes, failures, and roadblocks to adopting BMPs were also discussed. Three additional roundtables are scheduled to be conducted in January and February 2006.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This project has made substantial impacts on growers, agronomists, and the media. The University of Idaho Potato Cropping Systems Program has several projects, but more inquires, from both the press and from growers, have been made regarding this project than all others combined.

In the last year, this Sustainable Potato project has been highlighted or discussed in: 1) three interview articles in the popular press, 2) one press release, 3) one proceedings manuscript, 4) two radio interviews, 5) one extension newsletter, 6) one magazine article, 7) two web pages, 8) two television interviews, 9) one regional, 14 state, and one local grower meetings, including invited presentations at the Idaho and Washington potato conferences and field days, 10) one workbook, 11) two abstracts, 12) one grant progress report, 13) one field day report, 14) one poster, and 15) one volunteered and one invited presentation at international professional meetings, including invitation to publish a manuscript in the American Journal of Potato Research, along with the other invited presentations given at the keynote symposia at the Potato Association of America Annual Meetings in 2005.

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 21,000 acres on 18 farms and grower meeting questionnaires indicate that changes on at least 75,000 acres are planned on other farms.

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. Workshops are planned for the coming year to enable growers to shift toward the BMP approach 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