Summary report of the first annual potato industry and Penn State strategic planning event held on March 29, 2016.

Image: Carolee Bull, Penn State

Image: Carolee Bull, Penn State


The Pennsylvania potato industry is a complex industry comprised of diverse interests that significantly contribute to the Pennsylvania economy. Potato production and the production of potato products are responsible for contributing to domestic and export markets. In 2014, 5,300 acres or 1,430,000 cwt of potatoes were produced, resulting in a $19,019,000 farm-gate value (U.S. Potato Board and National Potato Council, Economic Contribution of the Pennsylvania Potato Complex, 2014. January 2016). Potato products resulted in $771,200,000 value to companies producing them. Still greater economic benefits were generated due to indirect and induced impacts of the Pennsylvania potato industry.

Pennsylvania has the largest potato chip industry in the country, and potatoes are imported from outside the state to meet the demand of this industry. While 20.9 potatoes are imported for every potato grown in Pennsylvania, approximately 14 percent of Pennsylvania's potato production is exported. According to the 2014 report cited above, for every person working directly in the production of Pennsylvania potatoes, there are 71.8 other jobs within the state that are supported by the potato complex. Overall, the potato industry represents 5 percent of the state's agricultural and food processing economy. Pennsylvania's potato industry resulted in $550 million to the state economy in 2014 through combined business sales ($1.2 billion) and 3,215 jobs.

The Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology (PPEM) at Penn State University, organized the First Annual Potato Industry/Penn State Strategic Planning Event to outline issues facing the potato industry in Pennsylvania that would benefit from Penn State research, to evaluate Penn State expertise and resources available, and to document gaps and develop strategies to fill them. The time frame considered was about ten years into the future.

Bob Leiby and Roger Springer worked with Carolee Bull of PPEM to determine who should be invited to the event (see Appendix A). Industry visionaries and those knowledgeable about industry trends were invited. Producers from a variety of farm types and regions were represented at the meeting. Faculty from the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology involved with the potato industry were invited.

The meeting began with brief introductions. Dr. Barbara Christ provided a short history of potato research at Penn State (see Appendix B). Eight researchers from Penn State presented short summaries outlining what they are doing and have done recently for the potato industry.

Next, the industry participants listed current and future industry observations and issues (see Appendix C), and then PPEM faculty discussed their needs in relation to the potato industry. A discussion of the resources available at Penn State followed; then the group attempted to prioritize top issues and further flesh out the research needs.

Summary of Main Industry Issues

Major concerns and problems for the industry include:

  1. Diseases and disease management: common scab, Verticillium wilt, black dot, silver scurf, Dickeya, and black spotting. High gravities are also a quality problem. Growers need to be able to respond quickly to new problems, but there isn't a tenure-track faculty member dedicated to the diseases of potato. Growers need to know recommended crop rotation practices to manage disease.
  2. Development of early, high-yielding, Pennsylvania-adapted varieties for chipping and specialty varieties (creamer, smaller, colored skin and flesh, locally grown) and varieties that grow in hot, dry weather. The industry needs to be up to date or ahead of the market and consumer demand for snack food products, etc. Growers need to adapt to the marketplace, which is changing from growing large quantities of a few varieties to many different varieties and sizes (e.g., creamers). But these potatoes might need different equipment to grade and process, etc.
  3. Effective soil health/conservation measures to reduce disease and inputs required. Potato-specific fertilizer recommendations that address P availability and reduce input costs.
  4. Strategic planning and collaboration industry-wide; communication among growers and with processors and consumers.
  5. Consumer acceptance of GMOs/CRISPR.

Significant Outcomes

  • Bull will set up another meeting of Pennsylvania Potato Task Force for around this time next year.
  • Bull will propose a position to the college for someone to work on soil-borne diseases of potato.
  • The group identified researchable issues that need to be prioritized. Many of them are disease management issues that can and are being targeted by members of the PPEM faculty.
  • We identified some infrastructure issues that need to be taken care of.

Recent Accomplishments

  • Follow-up meeting of Pennsylvania Potato Task Force set for March 2017.
  • Bull presented the following position in the department's annual meeting to the college: Soil-borne disease dynamics/potatoes. Penn State's dominance in potato pathology in the eastern U.S. was largely due to the strategic Penn State potato program grown under the direction of Dr. Barb Christ. Research from this program helped to buffer PA potato farmers from economic challenges faced by others in the region. Emerging diseases threaten the industry and other pathogens remain recalcitrant because Pennsylvania has unique mineral soils that don't allow for direct extrapolation of data from other regions. Because this is one of the few surviving potato programs in the eastern U.S., and because it serves both the potato production and the potato chip industries in Pennsylvania, strategic approaches are needed to ensure that it maintains its relevance. Pennsylvania potato growers met PPEM potato researchers to discuss the state of the Penn State Potato Research Program. A report from the 2016 PPEM/Potato Industry meeting is being written with a full justification for filling this position. This is a key position for PPEM in meeting our strategic plan to serve Pennsylvania stakeholders and continue to strengthen programs for which we are distinguished. A faculty member with expertise in spatial-temporal dynamics of soil-borne pathogens would develop novel approaches to management for emerging and recalcitrant diseases and would allow for unique collaborations within our department and across the college.
  • Received college funding to match departmental funding to renovate the potato-grading facility. Bids are being accepted now and the goal is to have this renovated by this fall's harvest.
  • Recruited a graduate student to work on soft rot and blackleg. We are recruiting again.

Barb Christ-Potato Research History

Dr. Barb Christ, the associate dean of the college, started us off with a history of the potato research program in PPEM. During the early 1900s Pennsylvania produced 200,000 acres of potatoes. Irrigation plays an important role in potato production in other areas, but the quality and composition of the soils in Pennsylvania play a more important role here.

Dr. Ernest Nixon was the first Penn State extension person in potato variety work. He had a potato farm west of State College near Barb's farm. When he left, Bill Mills started the potato variety generation and disease program. Dr. David MacKenzie ran the breeding program farm up near Black Moshannon State Park.

Barb started working at Penn State in 1984. She was recruited from her Ph.D. After she was hired, she was challenged by inheriting a huge seed production and breeding program. The breeding material was from the USDA Beltsville and Maine programs. She was responsible for doing pathology work and had no extension appointment. Her position was 90 percent research and 10 percent teaching (guest lectures and mentoring graduate students). In the first year, she was told to take over both the foundation course and the finishing course for plant pathology. To succeed, she needed to make some moves.

Barb had a collaborative seed potato program from Cornell. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) agreed to this for the certification and involved the breeders. She was still making crosses in the greenhouse. The Black Moshannon farm was leased and the mid-state airport was in the middle of the farm. This area was used because seed stock needed to be isolated, but the distance and location were challenging. The producers took a leap of faith to let Barb establish collaborations with breeders in Maine and at Cornell. USDA infused more advanced lines. The program grew to plots at six locations across the state for evaluation of those advanced breeding lines. This allowed her to put some focus on potato diseases. She coordinated the research in early blight. There was funding for work on powdery scab. She was the only person working on powdery scab, and it became a national and international effort.

Barb was conducting applied research in dry rot and disease resistance in support of the industry. The longer she was here, the more she became a jack of all trades. She studied the effects of chemicals on nematodes and all sorts of things.

In 1998, there was a shift in money into the department thanks to her work, and more money stayed with the program. She had four students and two postdocs. In 1998 someone said, "Barb is ahead of her time in accessibility and affordability of an education." Keith Masser's son, David, needed one credit hour for biological sciences. Barb was able to give him a project so that he could graduate in four years. In total, she trained twelve potato pathology students.

Sara May was an undergraduate and was tenacious in asking Barb for a job in her lab. Barb hired her on the spot and later Sara continued on with an M.S. degree and is now pursuing her Ph.D.

In 2005, Barb was asked to serve as department head. She continued her program with the support of staff, including Sara and students. Her research collaborations were a significant part of her research program.

Xinshun Qu-Potato Research Program

Penn State's dedicated potato research group personnel include Dr. Xinshun Qu, Mike Peck, and Chad Moore. Dr. Qu still sends reports and information to Dr. Christ, but she no longer plays an active role in the research program. The group evaluates potato germplasm for adaptation to PA growing conditions, develops new potato varieties, and develops management strategies for potato diseases in PA.

Germplasm evaluation is conducted for table-stock varieties (now limited acres in PA), processing varieties for chips and fries, and specialty varieties. Qu's lab conducts variety trials, commercial trials, demonstration trials, and other trials at Rock Springs (central PA); Lehigh, Schuylkill, and Northampton counties; and Erie County. Varieties/breeding clones for potato germplasm evaluation trials come from USDA-Beltsville, University of Maine, Cornell University, Michigan State University, Colorado State University, University of Wisconsin, USDA-Idaho, and private companies. Every year the trial report is sent to growers and breeders, and it can be downloaded from the PPEM website.

Traits evaluated include yield, tuber size, gravity, maturity, tuber characteristics, external quality, internal quality, French fry test, chipping test, cooking tests (microwaving, boiling, and baking), and disease susceptibility. In 2015, 204 potato varieties/breeding clones were evaluated in variety trials at Rock Springs, 38 in Lehigh County, and 38 in Erie County.

To determine whether there are problems that will arise in commercial production, commercial trials are conducted with the varieties that perform best in the variety trials. These trials are typically 0.5-2 acres. In 2015 the Penn State team had eight varieties in commercial trials in three PA locations. Additionally, demonstration trials with the best new varieties are planted in three locations for viewing during Ag Progress Days and at Potato Field Day. In 2015, about 30 varieties were placed in demonstration trials.

Other trials in 2015 included seventeen varieties in creamer variety trials (small-size potatoes) in two locations, six varieties in early variety trials at Rock Springs, four varieties in fertilizer and spacing trials at Rock Springs, and ten varieties in Snack Food Association chipping variety trial with the PA Co-Op Growers, Inc. (these are tested for three years all over the nation).

Results from the 2015 trial give a number of varieties that may be of use to PA growers. Creamer varieties evaluated in 2015, such as Smart from HZPC, Little Giant from Solanum International, Isabelia from SunRain, and Jester from SunRain, have potential market opportunities in PA. Penn State's team is in collaboration with other potato breeding programs to release new varieties. Little Ruby is a small, red-skinned, light yellow-fleshed variety co-released in 2015 by USDA-Beltsville, Penn State, University of Maine, and others. NY141 is early-season table-stock to be released in 2016 by Cornell and named Algonquin. NY150 is to be released in 2016 by Cornell and named Upstate Abundance. It's early-to-midseason table stock.

Potato disease management in PA is accomplished through the use of disease-resistant varieties, chemicals, biological control agents, biofumigation, soil fumigation, and disease detection. In 2015, 978 varieties/breeding clones were evaluated for resistance to late blight, 108 to early blight, and 153 to common scab at Rock Springs, and 56 to powdery scab in Potter County. Twelve chemical treatments were evaluated for control of late blight at Rock Springs, and data were used for new registrations by companies.

In the past few years, five nonpathogenic Streptomyces strains were used as biocontrol agents to suppress common scab in the field. Two strains show potential to reduce scab incidence and severity. The researcher was asked if there was a marketing and development strategy for biological control. There is none at this time. Green manure-mustard "Caliente 199" was tested on six potato varieties for effects on yield and soil-borne diseases: common scab, Rhizoctonia, and silver scurf. In collaboration with TriEst Ag Group, Inc., and Sterman Masser Potato Farm, chloropicrin was evaluated for its effects on yield and soil-borne diseases; fumigation gives a yield increase even in the absence of disease.

Real-time PCR assays were developed to detect several soil-borne diseases and pathogens: common scab (pathogenic Streptomyces), powdery scab (Spongospora subterranea), silver scurf (Helminthosporium solani), black dot (Colletotrichum coccodes), black scurf (Rhizoctonia solani), and Verticillium wilt (V. dahliae, V. alboratrum). Attendees had many questions about Verticillium, including the source of inoculum, which detection methods are used and how, and whether the methods have been transferred to the clinic. The group is working on molecular detection methods, and they are not yet ready for transfer.

Dr. Qu is working in collaboration with the PA Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc., and Keystone Potato Products on a new research project to develop a par-frying potato variety for PA. Par-frying is common in Europe, but virtually no par-fry processing now occurs in the United States. This represents a new opportunity for the PA potato industry.

Market trends indicate that the demand for large, round, white tubers is declining, and demand for specialty potatoes (medium-to-small size, yellow-/red-/blue-/purple-colored skin and flesh) is increasing. Specialty potatoes are often priced three to five times more than round white potatoes. Most of the varieties available come mainly from western states. There's also increasing demand for locally-grown foods. These trends represent additional opportunities for the PA potato industry. Qu is collaborating with the PA Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc., on this research to identify specialty varieties for PA growers.

Another new research project involves disease resistance gene identification in collaboration with Kathy Haynes at USDA-Beltsville. They are studying a tetraploid clone potato B0692-4, which is one of the most late blight-resistant clones. USDA-Beltsville's team produced a population of about 290 clones by crossing B0692-4 with another variety. Penn State's team is working on phenotyping and genotyping of the population and mapping the genes for late blight resistance. They're also studying a diploid Solanum phureja-S. stenotomum population for late blight resistance. USDA-Beltsville's team did three cycles of recurrent crossing and selection of the population. Penn State's team is evaluating them for field late blight resistance and mapping resistance genes in this population. The late blight resistance has been significantly increased after three cycles of selection. USDA-Beltsville is planning to release this population as a source of late blight resistance to all public breeding programs for use in their potato breeding.

Dr. Qu's lab is also doing a genome-wide association study (GWAS). They are evaluating 225 common tetraploid potato cultivars in the field for disease resistance and agronomic traits. They are using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping on individual plants, identifying genes responsible for disease resistance and other agronomic traits, and studying genetic relationships among those traits.

The accomplishments of this team are augmented by their contributions to a larger national effort. Penn State participates in USDA multistate project NE-1231 Development of New Potato Varieties for Environmental and Economic Sustainability in the Northeast, along with Florida, Maine, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, and Virginia. This is done in collaboration with the USDA-ARS Potato Breeding Program in Beltsville, MD. There is still a regional Hatch project dedicated to testing potato varieties research extension that goes only as far west as Ohio.

Resources dedicated to potato research have shrunk over the past ten years. Though the number of accessions is increasing, the number of potato researchers in the eastern U.S. is decreasing. There were no replacements for potato personnel when they retired at the University of Maryland and Cornell University. Bob Goth and Leslie Wanner, both former USDA/ARS scientists, are no longer with the agency.

Most of the programs test the USDA varieties along with their own. Most of the extension programs have some testing. The Penn State program is one of the few programs that takes material from all the eastern breeding programs and most other breeding programs in the United States. Few Canadian breeding programs also send material to Penn State for evaluation. This is important because of the unique growing conditions (soils) in Pennsylvania. The Penn State program is the only program in the northeastern U.S. to evaluate varieties for late blight, early blight, and powdery scab resistance, and it's the main program for evaluation of common scab resistance. Our data are used by many potato researchers/breeders in the United States and Canada.

Yinong Yang-CRISPR Technology

Genetic modification and improvement of agricultural crops has been going on for thousands of years. First came domestication of crops. This was followed by hybridization and cross-breeding, then chemical and radiation mutagenesis (the green revolution based on conventional breeding). Next came transgenesis (e.g., Bt corn) and cisgenesis (e.g., Innate potato variety by Simplot), and now precise genome editing, also known as Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR associated protein 9(Cas9), is becoming more common. CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology was first developed in 2012 based on a defense system used by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes to battle viruses. A description of how CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing of plants and other organisms is accomplished is found here. The CRISPR/Cas9 discovery received the 2015 Breakthrough Prize. CRISPR has already figured in thousands of publications and many multimillion-dollar company start-ups and innovations. It has broad applications in fields such as drug development, food, fuel, materials, and animal models.

CRISPR enables targeted deletion or disruption of potato genes for transgene-free, mutational breeding. Potato traits that have so far been the focus include antibrowning, low acrylamide, low toxin (solanine), powdery mildew resistance, and starch properties. The technology allows precise editing to create allelic variation to improve agronomic traits such as late blight resistance, abiotic stress tolerance, high yield and quality, and quantitative trait locus (QTL) traits. Dr. Yang's lab is using CRISPR to reduce acrylamide levels in potato and to produce a transgene-free antibrowning mushroom to extend shelf life and facilitate mechanical harvesting. CRISPR allows simultaneous editing and improvement of multiple agronomic traits.

Dr. Yang was asked how much funding per year would be needed to develop a full potato CRISPR program. Per year this would require $20,000 in materials and $80,000 for a full-time qualified person to do the work.

María del Mar Jiménez Gasco--Verticillium Wilts

Verticillium wilts (caused by Verticillium dahliae) has over 400 dicotyledonous hosts. It survives in soil as microsclerotia. It causes vascular wilts, the symptoms of which are most evident on warm, dry, sunny days. There is some evidence of host-adapted populations.

Crop rotations with nonhost species could be a piece of a management strategy for this disease. Rotations with oat, barley, corn, and sudangrass have been used and are presumed to reduce inoculum build-up. However, results regarding a reduction in Verticillium wilt in the subsequent potato crop have been inconsistent.

Dr. Jiménez Gasco's lab is looking at the genetic diversity of endophytic isolates of V. dahliae from the variety Snowden (highly susceptible) and Reba (moderately resistant). The susceptible cultivar has a greater diversity of V. dahliae populations than the resistant cultivar or oats.

V. dahliae has an interesting hidden biology, with reservoirs of inoculum and diversity. It's not clear what this means for management. Can these endophytic interactions explain why the effect of rotations with an asymptomatic host in the subsequent symptomatic crop is so inconsistent? Ultimately the goal would be to design ad hoc rotations that specifically target the V. dahliae soil population.

Dr. Jiménez Gasco's lab sampled different crops used in rotation with potatoes for the presence of V. dahliae. In 2015 they sampled potato, timothy, oat, rye, soybean, sudangrass, corn, wheat (60 and 190 plants per crop, depending on the crop), and eight species of common weeds. Strains were isolated from potato, oat, soybean, and common evening primrose. Isolates are being characterized in terms of diversity (PDA Potato Board, and BARD grants) to determine which genotypes are common with those from potato. 2016 sampling will continue with emphasis on potato, oat, and soybean. Dr. Jiménez Gasco's lab is now researching whether these endophytic interactions explain why the effect of rotations for the management of Verticillium wilt of potato is so inconsistent. The long-term goal is to design better rotations for disease management that specifically target the V. dahliae soil population. She was recently awarded a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)-Agriculture and Food Research Institute (AFRI) grant for this work.

Proof-of-concept research from Dr. Jiménez-Gasco:
Endophyte dynamics: A new consideration for designing crop rotations for disease management.

  • Hypothesis: An asymptomatic rotational crop such as oat can affect disease severity in a subsequent potato crop through a change or shift in the pathogen population composition. This genotypic shift results from the endophytic interaction between the asymptomatic host and the fungus.
  • We will establish microplots and infest soil with different V. dahliae genotypes and different ratios. We will subject these microplots to experimental rotations, oat-potato: 90 microplots.
  • We will study the V. dahliae population before and after the rotation and evaluate the genotype shift and its effect on disease in potato.

Gugino and Bull-Dickeya

Although blackleg is an endemic disease of potato in Pennsylvania, the severity and extent of the disease in recent years has justified renewed interest in this disease. Unfortunately, 100 percent of the potato acreage in Pennsylvania is susceptible to bacterial disease blackleg. The Bull and Gugino laboratories collaborate with laboratories around the United States to describe the genetic diversity of pathogens that cause this disease and to develop novel management strategies. It is clear from surveys conducted by Christopher Ramage and others that in addition to the previously reported pathogens from the genus Pectobacterium, blackleg of potato is also caused by members of the genus Dickeya in Pennsylvania. Further analysis of populations causing this disease will be conducted in 2016. Dr. Qu and colleagues plan to evaluate germplasm for resistance to blackleg and soft rot.

May and Gugino-Extension Observations

The Penn State Plant Disease Clinic processes about 2,000 samples per year. Of those, about thirty are potato plants. From 2013 to 2015, the clinic saw the following fungi/oomycete potato samples:

Late blight 2 4 3
Early blight 0 1 3
Powdery scab 1 0 0
Fusarium dry rot 5 7 2
Fusarium wilt 0 2 0
Verticillium wilt 4 2 1
Rhizoctonia/black scurf 1 1 1
Black dot 1 0 3

During the same time period, the clinic saw the following bacterial and abiotic potato samples:

Blackleg 2 1 5
Tuber soft rot 0 2 2
Common scab 1 1 3
Pink eye 6 2 1
Hollow heart 1 0 0
Bruising 1 2 1
Growth cracks 0 1 1

Potato pink eye is associated with excessive moisture and high soil temperatures, leading to cell death. Signs include pink, raised areas around eyes, especially at bud end, and scaly skin.

Industry Priorities

  • Keith thinks the relevance of the industry here will only continue to grow because of the availability of water and the strong presence of the processing industry and the proximity to the market. We are not in a bad place at the university because of the work of Bob Leiby and Mike Peck. We need a person responsible for coordinating the potato program, whether that is a tenure-track professor or an extension person. If Penn State could dedicate a coordinator to the potato industry, that would be great. We need presentations like the one María gave here to show the Board of the PA Co-Operative Potato Growers what is being done and how the money is being used to address issues and leverage funding. Learning about advances in technologies like CRISPR is important. We need someone to coordinate these efforts so they are not duplicated and so they can connect everyone and connect to other states/regions. Pennsylvania's potato acreage in 1984 was about 24,000 acres. Now we are at about 5,400 acres. We need to draft a position statement. When you go to solicit external funding, e.g., to Utz, you need to be able to define a path and what will be done with that funding. We need a coordinated effort with a plan laid out. We need someone like Dr. Chris Long at Michigan State doing all the leg work with extension, etc. He has just been asked to be dean, so he is gone too. Many chip producers have combined with others. What about the other areas, e.g., fertilizer producers, what role do they play in our industry? We need someone with expertise in soil-borne diseases. Maybe 80/20 or 60/40 extension/research for this position. Frame to fit with President Barron's initiative to meet economic growth of the Commonwealth.
  • Potato Task Force: Barb said that about 18 years ago we had a potato task force that was separate from the research board. The last time they met they went to the dean. It was similar to this where they shared information on the latest research and discussed needs of the industry. Need to get people from each area of the state but can't have too many people because it can get too big. An annual recap meeting would be sufficient. It's helpful to have all the Penn State potato people in the same room and then have all of the industry represented so everyone can discuss the needs. Carolee will set up another meeting for around this time next year.
  • Variety research-Need new varieties good for PA, e.g., to replace Atlantic and Snowden varieties. Need late-storage chipping varieties and early, high-yielding, high-quality chipping varieties. Seasonal varieties--timing of harvest. Midsummer replacement for Atlantic variety.
  • Disease issues. Skin finish (scab, scurf, black dot).
  • Potato bruising because of higher gravity during mid-to-late summer. Uniform size of tubers. Appearance.
  • Competitively growing the product the market wants. Loss of potato acreage in PA. Declining potato sales. Identifying market needs before they happen (round white vs. creamers vs. specialties).
  • Keeping growers profitable. Decrease input and production costs. Insecticide efficacy testing/comparisons.
  • Declining quality of workforce.
  • Concerns about transportation of potatoes.
  • Grower/processor communication.
  • Foresight and leadership on the demands of the industry. Increased communications.
  • Timely response times from university on problems.
  • Changing weather conditions (drought).
  • More research into potato nutrient requirements. Crop rotations to build soil and limit disease. Sustainable growing. Soil conservation and health. Soil variability within a field.
  • Genetically-modified organism (GMO) acceptance by consumers.

PSU Needs and Issues

  • Sara May: Research-based information to inform management (e.g., pesticides, cultivars). Communication with growers, industry, Penn State faculty members to stay connected to the problems and needs. Better diagnostic tests that are faster, more accurate, etc. Personnel in the lab to increase services for potato diagnostics, e.g., quantification of soil-borne pathogens, more species-specific results, etc.
  • Xinshun Qu: More cooperation with industry to do farm-based research. We don't have enough time/resources to do things here, or we have to find a way to fund more research here. We should be applying for grants in cooperation with industry to get funding for more research. Funding is available through industry National Coordinated Potato Trial (part of U.S. Potato trials). Don't want to duplicate efforts or overlap. Are we recovering costs with the current research we are doing? For example, we are not charging Michigan or Maine to test their varieties for use in PA, and they are using our data and releasing new varieties with the help of our data. We've been doing some private breeding testing, but those varieties have already been released, and we are just trying to see if they might perform well in PA.
  • Mike Peck: Biggest issue is funding. We have limited funding to do research and not enough staff/people. Keith: We are going through a referendum now in April that will maintain the program and follow up with a doubling of the assessment that would hopefully give $40,000 instead of $20,000. Mike: Infrastructure is also a problem, as is land and specific equipment. Need to bring expertise and knowledge together and get information out.
  • Beth Gugino: She works mostly with diversified vegetable growers who grow differently (e.g., they don't have large harvesters, they sell via different markets such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or roadside stands). How can we be a larger regional center for collaboration on potato research? How can there be a more cohesive and coordinated effort to bring people together? Tom Kuhar at Virginia Tech works on potato insects. Shelby Fleischer at Penn State works on a lot of other vegetables. Bob Leiby wishes there were more efficacy trials on insects so we could make better, more confident recommendations. Here at Rock Springs we can inoculate with Phytophthora infestans and do better late blight research, which is a large benefit to our region.
  • Carolee Bull: We need coordination and collaboration and communication with stakeholders. How do we pull the different groups together even within our department/college? Bull and Gugino are using start-up funds to bring in a graduate student to work on Dickeya. It would be great to have funding to have a graduate student always working on problems in potatoes. It would be great to have faster, cheaper, and more accurate disease detection methods. More staff in the clinic could provide more specific services (e.g., quantification and species ID). Soil science or other disciplines-need funds to be able to attract people to possibly work with us on these issues. We could use more research-based information on disease management.
  • Yinong Yang: We have limited knowledge of potato genetics and disease resistance mechanisms. Potato has a complicated genome and genetics. There is limited funding for potato breeding and disease studies. The college has somewhat limited expertise in potato research in general.
  • Barb Christ: We need personnel resources that allow us to address emerging problems. There is sometimes a disconnect between research and extension, although this has lessened recently. Management recommendations differ depending on whether potato is grown as an agronomic crop or in a diversified vegetable rotation.
  • María del Mar Jiménez-Gasco: Funding is very limited and competitive. As a result, personnel are limited. Personnel are spread way too thin and have to learn to say no to some things. There's no organized group to address common areas in research.

Industry Problems

  • Black spotting under the skin - There is no evidence that outer skin is broken. We're seeing extremely high gravities this year, but spotting is in all varieties, more so on the stem end. We also had high gravities last year, but didn't have this spotting problem. Gravities are slightly higher this year.
  • Common scab - We have two potato varieties that are commercially acceptable, Norwis for fries and whole peel, and Envol, that are having issues with common scab.
  • Verticillium is also an issue. We have varieties such as Superior that would yield well and are resistant to common scab and bruising but are very susceptible to Verticillium.
  • We also have problems with black dot and silver scurf. Potatoes matured early so they were in the ground longer before harvest in 2015.
  • If we practice crop rotation we build the health of the soil to maximize yield and reduce disease.
  • There is a need for a russet variety that can grow under PA conditions. This fits into the growing initiative for locally grown produce. We need a russet SKU number.
  • We need to define the breeding program more. We may need to develop varieties that grow better in ,dry conditions and also meet the needs of the chipping industry. When researching varieties for PA production, the window for harvest is about the end of July through September. We need varieties that are mature during this harvest window. We are still looking for a replacement for Atlantic that yields high and early and doesn't get heat necrosis or hollow heart.
  • The cost of chips has gone up over the years as the size of bags has gone down. Now there are so many other snack items, we don't want to price ourselves out of the market. We need to keep the growers in the market. We need to be up to date or ahead of the market and consumer demand for snack food products, etc.
  • How can we reduce production costs, chemical inputs, fertilizer inputs, etc., and increase quality?
  • Agronomic issues - Many growers use the Penn State soil testing lab but don't follow the recommendations given because the nitrogen (N) levels recommended are too high. Recommendations are not appropriate for the crop. Most growers have phosphorus (P) levels through the roof. The soil test recommendation will be 40 pounds, but this is too low because the P is not available. Growers need to add more P than this to actually grow a crop. Soil tests are primarily based on field crop data, not potato-specific data. Analytical lab data are more accurate for field crops.
  • Elsa Sanchez in horticulture (Penn State) has also noticed this problem in other vegetable crops and has been working with the analytical lab to try to update this information.
  • Some of the developers of varieties have established recommendations for specific varieties.
  • We used to take samples to collect nutrient data for a ten-acre field. Now we're taking samples by the square foot and mapping that data to get more accurate fertilization recommendations. We can also do this with disease.
  • Precision agriculture is now becoming more available for use in PA. Precision agriculture is more common in the west, where they have larger farms, and has not been as economically feasible for the smaller farms in PA. But costs are dropping for this technology, and it might become more common for PA growers.

Top Issues

  • Disease management (being able to respond quickly to a new problem such as Dickeya).
  • Other diseases: scab, Verticillium, scurf, black dot. Skin problems are due to field conditions and variety.
  • Being able to manage scab and Verticillium could allow use of older varieties that are susceptible to these diseases.
  • Early high-yielding chip variety for PA.
  • Need varieties that can serve processors and retail markets, retail SKU number, all types of potatoes.
  • For table stock it is very difficult to have one variety suits all because different gravities serve different uses, e.g., French fry, baking, potato salad, multipurpose variety.
  • Timing of seasonal varieties-one size doesn't fit all; replacement of Atlantic; in a really hot year potatoes suffer.
  • The marketplace is changing from growing large quantities of a few varieties to many different varieties and different sizes (e.g., creamers). But these might need different equipment to grade and process, etc.
  • Crop rotation practices that include soil conservation to manage diseases.
  • Soil health: Ability to use P in the soil because we are adding too much fertilizer. Is this a solubility problem? Farm that had chicken manure applied for maybe ten years then went into production for twenty years and still has very high P. Grower still has to add P to grow potatoes because P is not available.
  • Look into ways to use P in the soil--maybe bacteria that can release P and make it available to the plant?
  • We thought the trend might follow that in apple varieties, in which you purchase by the variety you want, but this is not practical in PA. Need to focus on what we can do and what we do well.
  • Strategic planning and working together to implement the plan (coordination).
  • Predicting future markets is always a challenge.
  • We don't do the best job of communicating to customers and communicating among ourselves, or of educating students to work in these markets.
  • Idaho has taxed its potato industry $0.15/cwt. That has resulted in marketing and huge benefits to their industry and consistency with the Russet Burbank variety. They've been able to spend the money to promote this variety, and we are not able to do that in the east.
  • Idaho has a requirement to put the variety on the bag, but that is a big problem for us because of the constant evolution of different varieties. We do have Pennsylvania yellows/Dutch yellows that could include Lehigh, Keuka Gold, etc., in the same bag with the same type of cooking properties. There are marketing issues.
  • Everyone is trying to offer something that the competitor is not to gain more of the market share. There needs to be a discussion about GMO acceptance or the use of CRISPR technology that may not be considered a GMO (regulation).
  • GMOs and packaging labeling laws present issues that are developing in states like Vermont.
  • When will the consumer accept GMOs?
  • We spend 8-9 percent of the money we earn on our food. This is much lower than the rest of the world, where it is more like 15 percent or more. We are used to cheap food and if costs increase, there will be an outcry for changes, such as acceptance of GMOs.
  • The Innate variety is going to some growers and shippers. If it is accepted, it could become a problem for other growers because Simplot is allowing it to go only to certain people.
  • Once the CRISPR technology has been worked out for a specific gene, it is easy to put it in other varieties. It's relatively easy to engineer in potato vs. corn or wheat.
  • Korean company that could speed up the breeding process and could quickly produce mini-tubers. Bob Leiby saw this but doesn't remember the name of the company.
  • There are transportation issues with getting raw potatoes to the plant or market. New trucking regulations, hours of service. Not as many trucks out there.
  • The Food Lion and Giant Foods just merged. After this merger produce sales will depend on who manages the produce department and what they want from growers. It will be a continued discussion on what varieties to screen to meet these needs.
  • We need to stagger planting to meet market needs. We also need to turn off the planter because we have a surplus of potatoes.

Barb Christ-PSU Resources

Potential potato researchers:
Jairam Vanamala-(Food Science) uses potatoes as a system for preventing human disease (actively working on potatoes);
Lavanya Reddivari-(Plant Sciences) uses potatoes as a system for dietary compounds (actively working on potatoes);
Jayson Harper-(Ag Economics) in past did extension work with business and farm management for potato growers;
Mike Saunders-(Entomology) in past did work on expert systems and insect control on potatoes. If there was a need he would rise to the occasion;
Armen Kemanian-(Plant Sciences) in past did systems work on potatoes. He has been a modeler at PSU, and takes a systems approach;
Elsa Sanchez-(Plant Sciences) interested in organic growing, but to my knowledge has not done anything with potatoes;
Bill Lamont-(Plant Sciences) extension focused on irrigation and plasticulture techniques;
Dwight Lingenfelter-(Plant Sciences) an extension associate; he has done herbicide trials with potatoes;
Shelby Fleisher-(Entomology);
John Tooker-(Entomology);
Ag Engineering-technology for storage.


Industry Attendees

Jerry Barnett, Barnett Farms
Bryan Bender, Bender Potatoes
Jack Corriere, Grower Relations, Utz Quality Foods
James Fitzgerald, Potato Purchasing Manager, Utz Quality Foods
Mitch Keeney, Potato Quality Advisor, Utz Quality Foods
Robert E. Leiby, Crop Consultant, Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc.
Keith Masser, Sterman Masser Inc.
Nolan Masser (tentative), Vice-Chair, Red Hill Farms, Inc.
Chris Robbins, Barnett Farms
Valery (Barnett) Robbins, Barnett Farms
Roger L. Springer, General Manager, Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc.

PPEM Attendees

Carolee T. Bull, Department Head, Professor of Plant Pathology and Systematic Bacteriology, Penn State University
Barbara Christ, Senior Associate Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences, Professor, Penn State University
Beth Gugino, Associate Professor, Vegetable Pathology, Penn State University
María del Mar Jiménez-Gasco, Associate Professor, Coordinator and Advisor of the Minor in Plant Pathology, Penn State University
Sara May, Coordinator, Plant Disease Clinic, Penn State University
Mike Peck, Research Technologist, Penn State University
Xinshun Qu, Research Associate, Penn State University
Yinong Yang, Associate Professor, Penn State University


Potato Stakeholder Meeting

Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, Penn State University

March 29, 2016


Goal: Determine the needs of the industry and strategize how to meet them.

9:00-9:15 Brief introduction
9:15-9:45 Barbara Christ-History of the Potato Research Program at Penn State
Current and Pending Research
9:45-10:15 Xinshun Qu and Mike Peck - Potato Research Program
10:15-10:30 Yinong Yang - CRISPR Technology for Potato Breeding
10:30-10:45 Access to pasture (Break)
10:45-11:15 María del Mar Jiménez-Gasco - Verticillium
11:15-11:35 Beth Gugino and Carolee Bull - Dickeya
Current issues-What We Are Seeing
11:35-11:50 Sara May and Beth Gugino - Extension and Clinic Observations
11:50-12:10 Industry Observations
12:20-1:00 Lunch | Continued discussion of Current Issues
What Needs to Be Done | What Do We Need to Get Things Done
1:00-2:00 Defining top issues
2:00-2:15 Barbara Christ - Discussion of the resources we have at Penn State
2:15-3:15 Prioritize list of new resources needed to serve this industry
3:15-3:30 Plan writing and publishing of the summary of results
3:30 Adjourn


Photographs provided by Carolee Bull of information captured on the board and flip chart and taken at the meeting:

Contact Information

Carolee T. Bull, Ph.D.
  • Department Head, Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology