Advancing Sustainable Potato Production in the Northwest

1997 Annual Report for SW97-074

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $35,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $7,071.00
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Karen Murphy
The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides

Advancing Sustainable Potato Production in the Northwest



1. To reach, through workshops, farm tours, educational materials, and the media, about 100 potato farmers with direct hands-on learning experiences about sustainable potato production and through other media at least another 1,000 farmers and other interested individuals to learn about these practices through other avenues.
2. To build a network of potato farmers.
3. To reach, through farm tours and educational materials, 30 agricultural lenders and educate them about the benefits of sustainable agriculture.
4. To work with Kettle Foods, a major Northwest food processor, to build a model processor support program for their conventional and organic potato farmers.
5. To actively disseminate existing information, production manuals and other appropriate information on sustainable practices.


Over 100 farmers and at least another 1,000 farmers and farm community members were educated about the benefits of sustainable agriculture practices in potato production in this SARE project. Through various educational activities – farm tours, farmer meetings, newsletters, presentations and outreach to the press – farmers and farm communities primarily in Idaho but also in other parts of the Northwest learned about the benefits of compost and green manures for building healthy soils and breaking up weed, pest, and disease cycles in potato cropping systems.

This project generated stories in several agriculture papers, and an exciting new publication profiling farmers that use sustainable production practices in potatoes was developed by this project, The Farmer Exchange.

As a result of this project, ten to 15 farmers in south central and eastern Idaho are exploring the use of green manures or other alternative practices on their farms. The project also formed a network of farmers in eastern Idaho that will begin meeting in the fall of 1999 to share information and ideas about sustainable production practices and marketing. In addition, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes (probably the largest potato ground owner in Idaho, leasing out some 140,000 acres for the production of potatoes and wheat) are developing a long-term research and demonstration project on 154 acres to explore the use of green manures and different rotation crops to reduce groundwater contamination and chemical inputs on reservation lease land. This project could have significant long-term impacts on potato production in eastern Idaho.

Specific Results

The project sponsored four farm tours and one farmer meeting, all positively received. The themes of the farm tours were increasing soil fertility and plant vigor through the use of compost and using green manures to control soil-borne disease and pests in potatoes. The farmer meeting featured three farmers who talked about alternative cropping systems used on their farms. Roughly 40 farmers, farm consultants, or farm managers and over 110 people total attended these five events. Responses on the evaluations were uniformly positive, despite bitterly cold weather on one tour.

NCAP staff also addressed roughly 200 farmers and farm consultants at the annual leaseholders meeting sponsored by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. NCAP’s annual meeting, with about 150 people, also featured two panels on agriculture and potato production in the Northwest. Staff made presentations at a regional water quality meeting sponsored by government agencies and attended by over 100 people. The project has also been discussed at the annual meeting and other meetings of the Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

We have also developed a mailing list of over 1,300 farmers to distribute notices of our farm tours and other educational events. We have also tried to disseminate information through other organizations that have co-sponsored our farm tours and workshops, such as the Idaho Rural Council and Three Rivers RC&D.

The project developed two issues of The Farmer Exchange. The first newsletter was distributed to over 2,500 people across the Northwest. The first issue was reprinted and inserted in an educational packet developed for a Northwest regional compost education project jointly sponsored by Washington State University, Oregon State University, and the University of Idaho. The second newsletter was distributed to over 1,000 people.

The project generated a number of stories, often front page, about sustainable farming practices in key regional and local agriculture publications in the Northwest. Print media covered our activities at least 20 times; radio stations aired our Public Service Announcements multiple times; and we had some expanded radio coverage. The bulk of the stories have been printed in agriculture papers such as the Capital Press, Magic Valley Ag Weekly, Intermountain Farm and Ranch, Farm Times, Acres and The Idaho Farmer-Stockman. The Capital Press and The Idaho Farmer-Stockman are regional papers encompassing multiple states, Acres is a national alternative farming publication, and the other papers are local agricultural papers. The combined circulation of these agricultural papers alone is probably close to 20,000 to 30,000.

In March of 1999 we sponsored a workshop in Aberdeen, Idaho, where a number of farmers became interested in forming a network to discuss production and marketing issues. We recruited additional farmers and conducted a number of follow-up calls. The first meeting will be held in December.

We developed an introductory packet for loan officers that is a series of fact sheets laying out the principles and background of sustainable agriculture and how it applies to potato production. We have made connections with at least one loan officer who is interested in working with us to promote sustainable agriculture amongst his peers.

Kettle Foods, a major Northwest food processor, has agreed to help build a model processor support program for their conventional and organic potato farmers. This fall we completed our report on processor incentive programs aimed at assisting growers in reducing their chemical inputs and employing more sustainable production practices. We shared this report with Kettle Foods and initiated a discussion with them about sustainable agriculture incentive programs they could develop. They are enthusiastic about working with us. Tentatively, we plan to meet to discuss goals for such an incentive program and organize a meeting of all Kettle Foods growers to talk about the goals and the kinds of incentive programs that growers would be interested in participating in. We are still in the early discussion stages with Kettle Foods.

Potential Benefits or Impacts on Agriculture

From our cooperative efforts with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in eastern Idaho, the Tribal Business Council passed a resolution setting up a 154-acre long-term demonstration project on the reservation to try cropping systems with reduced chemical use. The tribes manage as much as an eighth of all acreage in potatoes in Idaho. Some 140 to 200 farmers farm reservation land, and many of them also farm land off the reservation, so changes in rotation practices made on the reservation may also extend to land off the reservation. The tribes are faced with difficult choices about how to manage their land in the future. This project will provide information critical to that decision-making process.

Over the last three years more and more farmers, both conventional and organic, have attended our tours and workshops. Farmers seem to be looking for new solutions. In evaluations, farmers always state that they want more workshops, farm tours, and conferences on sustainable agriculture. With SARE support this project has offered farmers a set of solutions that they can consider and has helped them establish new relationships with other farmers that may have some ideas.

Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers

The reaction from farmers we work with and tribal representatives has been positive. The numerical rankings for the tours and workshops were uniformly high.

We have been treated very fairly by the agricultural press in Idaho, which has avoided the tendency to lump sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture together. Thus conventional farmers are not being continually told that they have to be organic in order to be sustainable.

This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle.