Summary report of the second annual potato industry and Penn State strategic planning event held on March 28, 2017.


The Pennsylvania potato industry is a complex industry consisting of diverse interests that significantly contribute to the Pennsylvania economy. Production of potatoes and potato products contributes to domestic and export markets. In 2014, 5,300 acres or 1,430,000 cwt of potatoes were produced in Pennsylvania with a farm-gate value of $19,019,000 (Economic Contribution of the Pennsylvania Potato Complex, U.S. Potato Board and National Potato Council, 2014). Pennsylvania potato products were valued at $771,200,000 after packing and processing (Economic Contribution of the Pennsylvania Potato Complex, 2014).

Still greater economic benefits arise from indirect and induced impacts of the Pennsylvania potato industry. Pennsylvania has the largest potato chip processing industry in the country, and potatoes are imported from outside the state to meet industry demand. Although 20.9 potatoes are imported for every potato grown in Pennsylvania, approximately 14 percent of Pennsylvania's potato production is exported (Economic Contribution of the Pennsylvania Potato Complex, 2014). According to the 2014 report cited above, for every person working directly in the production of Pennsylvania potatoes, 71.8 other jobs within the state are supported by the potato complex. Overall, the potato industry represents 5 percent of the state's agricultural and food processing economy. The potato industry added $550 million to the economy of Pennsylvania in 2014 through combined business sales of $1.2 billion and 3,215 jobs.

The Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology (PPEM) at Penn State organized the Second Annual Potato Industry/Penn State Strategic Planning Meeting to outline issues facing the potato industry in Pennsylvania that would benefit from Penn State research and extension, 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, of Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc., worked with Carolee Bull, of PPEM, to determine who should be invited to the meeting (see Appendix A). Industry visionaries and those knowledgeable about industry trends were invited. The growers present represented the large-scale agronomic potato industry. Small-scale growers from diversified vegetable farms were not represented. From Penn State, faculty and staff involved with the potato industry from the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology were invited.

The meeting began with brief introductions, then Carolee discussed changes in PPEM in the past year. Six researchers from Penn State presented short updates on their research for the potato industry.

Next, the industry participants listed industry observations and issues. A discussion of the current relevance of top issues identified at the 2016 meeting followed, and then the group prioritized tasks for the coming year and chose a date for a meeting next year (3/27/18).

Action Items Summary

  • Curtis to talk to Don Davis for Sterman Masser about possible air quality effects on potato plants.
  • Xinshun will talk with Craig Yencho of North Carolina State University, currently breeding potato cultivars for hotter growing environments, and let him know Pennsylvania growers are interested.
  • Continue to upload yearly data from Xinshun's lab.
  • Keith and Chris will explore collaboration on a minituber system and how Penn State could collaborate.
  • Carolee will talk to Plant Science and Barb to investigate ways to identify and finance students to work on the Rock Springs farm. Is there a way to connect to the student farm? Perhaps a stipend to the student farm in return for work? Carolee will talk with other departments that have farms at Rock Springs. We were very successful in getting people to apply using college and other listservs for undergraduate opportunities.
  • Explore possibility of applying for a grant through SARE for minituber production for next year. Carolee spoke with Chris Robbins in July 2017. They have begun minituber production and will contact her if there are researchable questions they have related to minituber production.
  • On the next phone call with PDA, Bob and Carolee will talk about diagnostics for PVY and Dickeya, and seed certification can come from there.
  • Carolee will have a soil scientist come to the next meeting and maybe someone from the microbiome group. Carolee will talk to Mary Ann Bruns, a soil microbial ecologist.
  • Carolee will organize this strategic planning and collaboration meeting next year on March 27, 2018. She will do it yearly until the growers say it is no longer needed. If other people should be invited, let her know. We might want to use that meeting to brainstorm a research proposal. It was suggested that Andy Miller from Utz be invited next year. It was also proposed that an agenda with specific questions to come to the meeting to discuss needs to be sent out well in advance or ideas should be solicited from the group and sent out with the meeting agenda prior to the meeting.
  • Carolee or Beth should contact Elsa Sanchez and John Spargo to ensure that potato information gets updated in Ag Analytical Lab recommendations.

Discussion Notes

Barb Christ is phasing into retirement over 1.5 years. The new senior associate dean to replace her has been selected: Steven Loerch from the University of Illinois. He grew up in the State College area, and he's an animal scientist.

The college has been investing in a new center for microbiome research. Carolee has been leading it. The microbiome encompasses the microorganisms in a system and the organisms they interact with in plants, soils, people, oceans, and the atmosphere. The college is slated to hire five people for this center. Another five people will be hired in the College of Medicine. Researchers in this field use modern DNA sequencing technologies to understand interactions.

PPEM hired two new assistant professors related to the microbiome cluster hire. One is a microbial ecologist (Kevin Hockett) and the other will work on phytobiomes (Terrence Bell) related to roots and soil. Either could work in potatoes. Food Science is also hiring two people who could potentially work on the microbiomes of potatoes.

The Plant Disease Clinic has some new student help, providing them with significant training.

Regarding an action item from last year's strategic planning meeting, the addition of a faculty position in potatoes, Carolee brought this to the deans. They are interested, but they wondered whether the size of the industry warrants a whole position. They will probably advertise for a soil dynamics person. There is no position announcement yet.

In the current political climate, funding for research in general and agricultural research specifically is uncertain.

As for infrastructure, the college is paying half the cost of insulating the chip processing/potato grading facility, so Mike Peck and others can work there in colder weather. Bids are coming in now (at the time of the final editing the bids have been selected and work is about to begin).

Research Updates

Xinshun Qu: Potato germplasm evaluation and disease management 2016

Penn State's dedicated potato research group personnel includes Xinshun Qu, Mike Peck, Chad Moore, and Weiya Xue. Barb Christ no longer plays an active role in the research program. The group evaluates potato germplasm for adaptation to Pennsylvania growing conditions, develops new potato varieties through USDA Northeast regional project 1231, develops management strategies for potato diseases in Pennsylvania, and studies potato genetics.

Germplasm evaluation was conducted in 2016 through variety, demonstration, early-season variety, creamer variety, par fry variety trials, and chipping variety trials with the Snack Food Association. Trials are conducted at Rock Springs in central Pennsylvania (205 clones), in Northampton County (32 clones), and Erie County (32 clones). 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 made available for download from the department website. Visitors can view the trials during Ag Progress Days at Rock Springs and during potato field days in Lehigh and Erie Counties.

Traits evaluated include yield, tuber size, gravity, maturity, tuber characteristics, external quality, internal quality, French fry test, chipping test, cooking tests (microwave, boiling, and baking), and disease susceptibility.

Other trials in 2016 included 10 varieties in creamer variety trials (small-size potatoes) at Rock Springs and 32 varieties in early-season (maturity within 75-90 days) variety trial at Rock Springs. Jazzy and Rosemarie were two stand-out varieties from these tests.

The par-fry variety trial was done in cooperation with Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc., and Keystone Potato Products, LLC (KPP). Four varieties (Ambassador, Easton, Norwis, and Performer) were selected based on 2014 and 2015 evaluation trials. These four varieties were evaluated for fertilizer rate, spacing, and disease resistance in 2016. They were planted at Rock Springs using normal and higher fertilizer rates. They tested these varieties at spacing of 9 inches, 12 inches, and 15 inches, and ran concurrent disease resistance trials for early blight, etc. Ambassador was the highest yielder (233 cwt/A US#1), followed by Easton (227), Norwis (192), and Performer (158). The higher fertilizer rate produced 215 cwt/A US#1, whereas the normal rate produced 190. The 9-inch spacing was most efficient (224 cwt/A US#1), followed by 12 inches and 15 inches. Par-frying is common in Europe, but virtually no par-fry processing now occurs in the U.S. This represents a new opportunity for the Pennsylvania potato industry.

The Snack Food Association chipping variety trial is conducted at eleven locations nationwide. It is conducted in Pennsylvania in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc., to identify superior new potato chipping lines that would be well adapted for various production areas and utilization markets. Sixteen varieties were grown at Rock Springs.

The development of new potato varieties via the USDA multistate NE1231 regional project occurs in collaboration with the USDA-ARS in Beltsville, University of Maine, Cornell University, and North Carolina State University potato breeding programs.

Lamoka was released by Cornell in 2011. It is a chip variety with resistance to golden cyst nematode.

The top variety grown in the U.S. is Russet Burbank, but its plantings are falling. Lamoka saw the biggest jump in production in 2016, up by 36.6 percent.

Red Dawn is a new variety that will be released in 2017 by USDA, NCSU, Penn State, and the University of Maine. It is red-skinned and yellow-fleshed.

Potato disease management in Pennsylvania is accomplished through the use of disease-resistant varieties, chemicals, biological control agents, biofumigation, soil fumigation, and disease detection. In 2016, 1155, 302, 89, and 36 varieties/breeding clones were evaluated for resistance to late blight, early blight, common scab, and powdery scab, respectively, at Rock Springs. Nine fungicide treatments were evaluated for late blight.

Potato genetics: Xinshun's lab is identifying genes responsible for agronomic traits and disease resistance and studying genetic relationships among all traits. They use conventional cross mapping and genome-wide association study (GWAS). They are dissecting genetic factors of traits in potatoes using a candidate gene approach and reverse genetics. For association mapping in common potato varieties, USDA-ARS provided 225 common tetraploid potato cultivars. The traits evaluated in 2016 include yield, tuber number, skin color, flowering time, dormancy, drought tolerance, and late and early blight resistance. They are genotyping individual plants using SNP. Few genes responsible for disease resistance and other agronomic traits were identified based on 206 phenotyping and genotyping data.

The lab is doing bi-parental mapping of late blight resistance via tetraploid crossing: Harley Blackwell x B0692-4 (by USDA-ARS). The crossing population was 260 clones, with phenotyping for late blight resistance.

For 2017 Xinshun's lab will continue potato germplasm trials to find better varieties/breeding lines for Pennsylvania growers and industry. They will continue disease management trials.

A focus in 2017 will be to identify an optimal russet potato variety in collaboration with Pennsylvania Cooperative Potato Growers, Inc., and Keystone Potato Products, LLC. We do not currently have a good russet variety for Pennsylvania, but they account for 60 percent of fresh sales nationally and are the most efficient potatoes in the food production process.

Another focus in 2017 will be to identify a colored, small- to medium-sized variety in collaboration with Pennsylvania Cooperative Potato Growers, Inc., and Sterman Masser, Inc. Specialty potatoes are small to medium in size and have colored skin and perhaps colored flesh and are increasing in market share. The lab will try to identify three-to-five varieties of each flesh color (yellow, red, purple, and blue) and medium size with high qualities under Pennsylvania field conditions.

The lab will work on various aspects of potato genetics. They will dissect genetic factors related to drought using GWAS, a candidate gene approach, and reverse genetics. They will also investigate how stolon and tuber numbers are controlled in potatoes using Atlantic and Superior varieties. They will use Chieftain potatoes, a short dormancy variety, to study how to extend the length of dormancy of tubers so that potatoes last longer in storage. Finally, they will look into the genetics of making potatoes sweeter.

In response to Xinshun's presentation, Keith thought it all looked good. He thinks the plan to investigate making potatoes sweeter is interesting. Rob Wenrich agreed that chips can be bland. He thinks the darker chips taste better. Xinshun said they can work with varieties growers are interested in. There is great opportunity at the chip level. The Atlantic variety has never been displaced. If we could take a week off the growing schedule that would be great. In the northeast we used to harvest potatoes about August 20. Now it is about August 10-15. The economic benefit to Pennsylvania companies could be tremendous.

Carolee said Xinshun should talk to Terrence Bell, PPEM's new hire in phytobiomes. He is attempting to influence the microbiome to induce early bolting for some grasses. Maybe there is a microbiome influence for an early-season (end of July to early August) chipping variety. One could select for organisms that work with plants to help achieve the goal.

Curtis Frederick likes the abiotic stress studies. He thinks PPEM should try to develop higher specific gravity varieties to deal with stress. As for increasing sugar traits, he does not think it is very useful. Xinshun says he is investigating only on some special varieties. Customer acceptance of GMO varieties is still an issue.

María del Mar Jiménez-Gasco: Verticillium wilt

Last year's report introduced ongoing research with Beth Gugino to look at the effects of rotations with nonhosts to Verticillium wilt and how that changes the amount of disease in potatoes. A few years ago, they found that in cereals Verticillium grows as an endophyte inside the plant. They wondered if this is good or bad. They have a grant from USDA-NIFA for a field study of whether wilt is worse or better in potatoes grown after oats. They need to understand the type of Verticillium. They established 90 microplots and inoculated the soil with different types of Verticillium from Pennsylvania fields and are running rotations to see how the dynamics of Verticillium change in a field and how this affects potatoes. The study was delayed because it was very wet last spring. They will restart the study again this year.

Maria's studies so far tell her that the type of Verticillium matters. There is diversity in Verticillium and different types affect different hosts in different ways. For example, type 4A occurs only in North America in potatoes. Knowing the type is important, and quantifying the type(s) is important. Scientists cannot currently quantify the type, but Maria's team is working on that.

She is using comparative genomics to find regions of DNA very specific to traits of interest. These techniques can generate a lot of data relatively inexpensively. Other groups are also working on Verticillium genomes. Maria is collaborating with a group in Israel and with Cornell using Binational Ag Research and Development funds (BARD--$100K) to look at similar interests in parallel ways. They are trying to understand how populations evolve. The same Verticillium type is found in weeds and potatoes in Israel. This study has found evidence of recombination, although this fungus has always been considered to be asexual.

Maria's group has a new investigation this year into Verticillium and the pathogen that causes black dot. They have found that they can obtain Verticillium from a plant only in some years, leading her to believe that expression may depend on weather. When it is very wet at the end of June and into early July, black dot shows up. In drier years, Verticillium takes over. The study of weather as a driver for which disease affects a plant is new. Finding out more about this mechanism should help to forecast what will be the main disease player in a year.

In response to Maria's presentation, Keith asked how growers can help. How long do they need the funding currently provided by the Pennsylvania potato board?

Maria said that the funding from the board helped develop preliminary data to show USDA. This was critical in obtaining her current USDA-NIFA grant. This is seen as the industry putting its money where its mouth is.

Keith: As growers, it's crucial to increase yields.

Carolee: The board's funding leveraged federal funding to advance this research. There are three ways that industry support brings in more money: by direct grants to researchers, by expertise shared with researchers, and by in-kind support to researchers.

Maria: Researchers sometimes have to quantify in-kind support for grants that need an in-kind match. Letters of support from industry are essential in getting government funding. Letters should detail the impact of the research on the industry.

Carolee wants to increase the number of people involved in the potato industry in PPEM.

Keith said the Pennsylvania potato board will soon consider a referendum to increase funding for the pot of money from which Maria was funded from $5 to $8/acre of potatoes grown for growers with more than 5 acres of potatoes. He said Maria might want to provide the board with an update of how the money was spent. Money is allocated in late January/early February each year. Update--July 2017: The referendum was approved.

Beth Gugino: Blackleg, Soft Rot, and Dickeya

Of potato samples that came into the Penn State Plant Disease Clinic in 2016, only six were Dickeya positive. Six others were positive for Pectobacterium. This is the primary pathogen that causes blackleg and soft rot.

Beth and Carolee had a Ph.D. student who started studying Dickeya last summer, but he has since left the program. They may hire a technician soon if they don't find another student. Samples representing approximately 50 potato fields were either directly sampled or samples were submitted to the Plant Disease Clinic. Of these, six samples tested positive for Dickeya spp. (cvs. Reba, Snowden, Chieftain, and Dark Red Norland), six were positive for Pectobacterium spp., 14 were negative for Dickeya spp. and eight were diagnosed as either Verticillium or abiotic injury. Many of the suspected Dickeya samples were split and also sent to the University of Maine for confirmation. Bacterial isolates from a number of samples have yet to be characterized.

Before the Ph.D. student left, he extracted DNA from different isolates and developed a dendrogram of one of the genes he was looking at. The analysis of Pectobacterium is interesting. There is one group that is unnamed and may represent a new species that has not yet been identified.

Carolee is working with an instructor in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and helping to advise undergraduates working on a potato project--isolation of a pathogen and its controls. If growers have fields that have blackleg or soft rot developing, please notify Carolee. 2016 wasn't too bad for blackleg or soft rot because the weather was mainly hot and dry.

The Florida test results for 2017 are out, but it is Beth's understanding that not all the results for the seed lots have been included.

In response to Beth's presentation, Keith asked could you get funding from Maine to help with sampling because it is their seed with this expression. It would benefit their seed industry to provide funding to monitor these diseases. Pennsylvania growers are buying seed from Maine that has Dickeya.

Carolee said there may be the potential for funding from USDA in Maine in cooperation with Cornell, Rutgers, etc.

The Maine seed industry should free up money. It is not being discussed; it is hushed. New Jersey was badly hit with blackleg caused by Dickeya spp. last year. Rob said they were seeing Dickeya 5-6 years ago. Now they see it more. There's not enough information coming out. Dickeya was worse three years ago. 2015 was bad in Pennsylvania. If Sterman Masser wants to plant Lehigh, their staple variety, they are stuck with Dickeya-infected seed for now.

They first thought it was weather-related, but no, it is how Maine is handling seed. We know that water and soil are not primary sources. It is a seed source issue from Maine. Some growers are moving their seed purchases to the midwest. Dickeya is in the midwest too, but it is less prevalent, maybe because of the weather.

Still trying to work out a method for detection of Dickeya in seed. For example, how large should the sample be to determine disease-free seed lots? We are testing PCR and other protocols.

New Jersey growers tried to pressure Maine for zero tolerance toward Dickeya. PDA is trying to educate about where seed is coming from. This can all be a challenge because some Maine growers are reluctant to throw out infected seed.

Keith is going to try grading cut seed before planting. Someone asked what Sterman Masser does before they plant. Keith said the seed comes out of cold storage. It is warmed on trucks to 45oF, then warmed to 50oF before it is cut to reduce bruising. They begin cutting two weeks before anticipated planting. They apply fungicide (as a liquid combined with a liquid insecticide) and seed treatments. They suberize the seed. Others use dry fungicide/insecticide. Older formulations are powdered, but newer are liquid. They sanitize equipment between cutting lots. If planting is delayed because of weather, they cool the seed back to 45oF. They do not want to put cold seed in hot soil, so they warm it before planting. Seed sweating can cause loss of 50 percent of stand if you put cold seed in hot soil. The cost of liquid treatments is high. Masser cannot get enough Lehigh seed from the midwest. North Dakota varieties are not successful here.

Sara May and Beth Gugino: Plant Disease Clinic report

The lab gets only 30-50 potato samples in a year. In 2016 the clinic received 49 potato samples. Of these, 45 were commercial samples and 4 were home garden samples. Of the fungal infections, Verticillium was most common. Four samples had black dot (Colletotrichum coccodes).

Among abiotic issues, pink eye was most common. The clinic found pink eye on Reba, Norwis, and Red Maria varieties. High temperatures and wet conditions around harvest are associated with pink eye.

Industry Observations

Mike Peck-Last year was tough with the weather being hot and dry. Xinshun's lab is starting to look at drought tolerance of different varieties.

Nolan Masser thinks heat tolerance is more important than drought tolerance. Keith agrees. He said they got some of their best quality potatoes last year on unirrigated land. He did see some potatoes with a crow's foot pattern and wondered if it was Rhizoctonia. He sees less expression of that with dry weather. Heat slams yields.

2016 saw about 40 days over 90oF. Normal is about 20 days over 90oF. Potatoes don't convert carbohydrates when it's over 90oF.

Chris Robbins- Cornell will no longer offer field-grown seed after 2018. They will be doing minituber production only out of Lake Placid. Seed supply on the east coast is tightening up. It may be harder to get some of the varieties growers want.

What would it take to do our own minituber production facility? Chris is very interested. Dr. Raymond Bula, of Wisconsin, developed the technology. His system uses NFT, a nutrient film. Lighting costs are an issue, but it is a more cost-effective way to grow minitubers. He has developed growth chambers (phytotrons) that create a controlled environment for minituber production in a soil medium. Using phytotrons you can grow multiple crops a year. The tuber is not senescing; you harvest before they mature, at 15-20 mm (18 mm ideal). This translates into 15-20 minitubers per pound, fieldhouse grown.

Curtis: Nutrient film technology (NFT) gives a quicker ramp up of the growing system. It is sometimes used in minituber production.

Chris is not looking into using NFT.

Jon Blass: Can we change the weather? He would like to have a repeat of the 2016 growing season. Potter County weather is working well now. He is a small-scale chip grower. He relies on early-season chip varieties. He feels that varieties tend to run their course. He wants to see more early-season chip varieties.

Mike says upper-midwest growers in North Dakota, Michigan, and Wisconsin grow long-term cold storage varieties for chipping and the fresh market.

Jon Blass had been growing Andover, but switched to Wanetas. The last few summers have been warmer. A dry year will scare you to death, a wet year will starve you to death. He thinks weather goes in ~10-year cycles of warming moving north.

Northern Pennsylvania gets only one or two frosts in October now, so they could probably grow field potatoes thru October. Michigan growers harvest through October. New York growers do not. They are out of the field by the beginning of October.

Rob Wenrich: Tonnage was not a disaster in 2016, despite the weather. We did see drought and heat stress. Heat stress causes internal discoloration. For growers who waited to harvest their Atlantic variety potatoes, they ended up with internal heat necrosis. New York had drought and heat stress. This winter has been good and wet. New York was super dry during the growing season--1 in 200 years.

Dickeya education is needed. Growers may need a different mindset to do field harvesting in downstate New York and central Pennsylvania in October. We have lots of mid- and late-harvest varieties, but we cannot seem to crack the early varieties. Our focus previously was on late storage. This is getting better. We now have a table potato with 75-80 days' storage.

Keith: His most optimistic observation is that Walmart insisted they grow russets and reds. He already grows yellows and whites for Walmart. They have seen plant death from air pollution. But with cleanup of coal plants, this surprises him. Reds and dark reds were the highest yielders without air pollution damage. They are now planting more reds. They were under center-pivot irrigation.

Carolee: Don Davis of PPEM monitors air pollution across the state. There is also a National Park Service employee on campus who is monitoring air quality, especially in national parks. We might want to ask them to collaborate on looking into this problem.

Keith: We used to get natural sulfur out of rain. The plant deaths could have been ozone damage. Dark Red Norland is sensitive to ozone damage.

Beth: It would be interesting to see if Keith gets the same results this year. Carolee says we could probably gather data to see if this was a unique situation in time or place. Do not know if Don Davis has monitoring stations he could deploy.

*Action item: Curtis to talk to Don Davis for Sterman Masser about possible air quality effects on potato plants. They are in communication.

Keith: His company has implemented more long-term storage. They manage the temperature going into storage. They want these potatoes to last into April. They have adjusted their drop-dead date for finishing harvest from October 20 to October 25. They go into storage in September, but not long-term storage. In 2017 their planted acreage will be up by 50 percent. They expect to produce 20-25 percent of all potatoes grown in Pennsylvania this year.

Keystone is having trouble finding enough potatoes to dehydrate to keep that plant running.

Keith: Seed management is challenging. CIPC testing for use of chlorpropham, which is a gaseous sprout inhibitor applied on packing lines so the potatoes do not sprout before they are bought. Sterman Masser keeps seed in a building that is not contaminated with sprout inhibitor, but disease residue is still a problem. They handle 50,000 cwt seed/year. Keith is getting potatoes from Colorado, North Dakota, and Prince Edward Island--white, yellow; red from North Dakota. You can accomplish a lot if you spend money.

Curtis Frederick: He did his graduate work on chipping potatoes, mapping, storage, and genetics. He is interested in quantifying and helping with field design of more scientifically reproducible trials on the Masser farm. He is most interested in Verticillium and scab.

Wisconsin is working on a seed certification program. The paperwork is in process, and people are being hired. Amy Charkowsky is involved.

Pennsylvania seed certification is all done through the state--Johnny Zook, PDA. In Maine, it is seed-grower directed, so there is a conflict of interest.

Sara: Plant Disease Clinic cannot currently test for PVY because we do not keep the tests in stock.

Curtis: He would like to have the Eastern Potato Variety Development Database uploaded. Xinshun's lab data is.

Rob: Is there a database for weather? Cornell has Northeast Climate Center. Curtis recommends Weather Underground for data.

Curtis (I think) would like to model chipping defects with nights above 20oC, for example. They are looking at this in Wisconsin.

Bob Leiby: Potter County and Erie County are now ideal for potato growing in Pennsylvania. Southeast Pennsylvania is especially challenging. Maria's basic research is helpful, also Weiya Xue's work in Xinshun's lab.

Curtis brings a unique skill set that can benefit the whole industry. It is important to see that our work complements each other rather than competes.

Is there enough labor to get the work done in Xinshun's lab with just Mike and Chad? People always want them to test more varieties, but they give the same amount of money. Maine sent about 100 more varieties for late blight testing than in the previous year.

There are fewer plant pathologists. Universities are replacing fewer potato people.

Mike: We do not charge for germplasm testing because we do not have the acreage. Most of the varieties they test are from New York, Maine, or USDA in Maine. They are generally more relevant to Pennsylvania. They tested 36 varieties through the USDA 1231 multistate funding last year. Xinshun's program is becoming more important as people retire. Kathy Haynes at Beltsville just wrote a 5-year plan so she is not retiring too soon.

Xinshun: We had no late blight last year, but there was a lot of early blight in Pennsylvania. NY followed this same pattern. But there could be a lot of late blight in a future year.

Nolan Masser: His farm suffered from the heat in 2016. We need a variety that can function in our climate. We need a systematic approach. We cannot just chase one problem because then the weather changes and you get a new problem. They have started trying to manage for soil health to hopefully smooth out bumps. Lots of problems develop only when something is out of balance. We can "overmedicate" with chemicals. Before we apply anything, we stop and ask if we really need it. We started this process on seed treatments. We were not sure we need them all. Are we creating more problems using them? Fertilizer can have high salt content, which may mess up the crop. Without fertilizer, we found we could grow a half-crop of potatoes. They are questioning everything they do and why. They think a lot of the problems they have would be improved by concentrating on managing the farm for soil health and balance rather than on being able to pay the bills. Most of our soils are degraded to some extent. Can we regenerate them?

Carolee: PSU is looking to hire a director for the microbiome center.

What is soil health? It's tough to define. Nolan thinks the healthiest soils on his farm are on road banks where they do not farm.

Ideally, we would plant late and harvest late and in theory keep stored potatoes until the following July. Now harvesting is a logistics nightmare. The situation gives opportunity to northern states for storage potatoes.

Nolan: For 60-70 years, we have been farming the way we are now. It is not a problem as long as there is gas and oil to pull from the ground. We have short-circuited natural processes from our practices. Potato growing uses a lot of fungicides. Does this get into soil and affect microbes?

Bryan Bender-They plant Atlantics for early chipping. An earlier chip would be better. They started harvesting in the first week of August last year. If they wait, they will get more yield. Russets out of Idaho cost $2/cwt. How do you compete with that? But freight is expensive. Higher energy costs are our friend, but we need a higher-yielding potato. He doesn't know if soil health or fertility is a problem. They do not follow fertilizer recommendations from the lab but they do get soil tested. Dickeya is scary. They got crushed by it two years ago. They are happy to be in business still. They had 30 percent of their stand in Rebas. They will gamble on Maine seed varieties. They still plant Reba despite Dickeya. They also grow Norwis, but they have Dickeya too.

Nolan grew out Norwis seed both positive and negative for Dickeya and the disease showed a bit in both.

Carolee: Florida test results--do people use them? Some people use them to lose sleep. Our seed sources are limited mostly to Maine. Maine had problems they were not addressing.

Bryan got Reba from Wisconsin and it was good.

Could Pennsylvania growers sustain themselves as a seed source, especially if we developed a minituber setup? Penn State would need to help to keep the place clean. Penn State and PDA have limited ability to help.

Top Issues 2017

  • Minitubers
  • Disease management
  • Early chip variety
  • Heat and drought tolerance
  • Ozone damage?
  • Increased yield per acre
  • Breeding for hot growing environments--people are interested in screening for heat tolerance.

*Action item: Xinshun will talk with Craig Yencho of North Carolina State University, who is doing this now, and let him know Pennsylvania growers are interested.

Last year Mike asked Colorado and Idaho for russets they thought would be good for Pennsylvania.

Roger Springer and Bob Leiby are working with Suzy Thompson.

Selecting for dryland heat tolerance has not been a focus so far.

Mel Henninger, of Rutgers Extension, did heat necrosis work, but he has retired. Virginia has hired a new person to work with potatoes.

Bob: Which variety do we think has the best heat and/or drought tolerance? Keith says Lehigh. Bob says Katahdin--"The potatoes are no good, but you can always get some. Maybe there is a gene in there we could exploit. If we could eliminate scab, Katahdin would be a good option."

The Eastern Potato Variety Development Database (USDA 1231 multistate project) would help identify lines. If we had a numbered variety grown at, say, 7 locations in the midwest and east, and the database shows it is always in the top 10 percent of producers at all sites, that is a variety we should keep evaluating. manages the website in North Carolina.

*Action item: Continue to upload yearly data from Xinshun's lab.

Top Issues 2016 Review

Dickeya-If Beth and Carolee do not get a grad student soon, they will hire a technician. Carolee can use Watts Endowment funds too.

Other diseases: Xinshun will address soilborne diseases in collaboration with Syngenta in field trials in 2018. Syngenta will pay for part of trial. A company's data is always one-sided.

Nolan has done some of his own disease tests.

Xinshun is making good progress on late blight and scab. What about scurf and black dot? Pushing to get Penn State to hire an epidemiologist in soilborne diseases would help. We have a good early white variety, Envol, but it is scab susceptible.

Curtis thinks the variety is important in scab. He has ideas. Manure management is one. The epidemiologist would be important. It seems that poultry manure may increase scab, and swine manure may decrease it. There is a possible tie-in to Chesapeake Bay cleanup here.

This point from last year is still important: Being able to manage scab and Verticillium could allow use of older varieties that are susceptible to these diseases.

Early high-yielding chip variety is still important.

Mike-They do not do out-of-field chipping. Chipping and harvesting at the same time is too difficult.

Utz, Benders, and Penn State are collaborating on an early chipping variety trial. Utz chips them within 24 hours of harvest.

Mike needs more people more than more money. But people are money. Xinshun wants to do more trials than he can.

Could the co-op, for example, pay for a person to work with Mike and Xinshun for 3-4 months? Carolee will investigate. Could a person or company give a charitable contribution to the university to support this?

We also need an attractive early yellow variety for fresh market to replace Yukon Gold. It has hollow heart and scab issues. Maine and Kathy Haynes at Beltsville are breeding more yellow flesh potatoes.

Dark Red Norland works. Superior is working. But we have nothing in yellow early. Erika variety was not good last year, but maybe in previous years it was good. Cornell tried to replace Keuka Gold with Yukon Gold.

Pennsylvania growers want to grow potatoes to fit all grocery store stock-keeping unit (SKU) slots, which are based on color, size, and use. A one-size-fits-all potato is not realistic.

If you find a variety you want, how do you get seed? We are at the mercy of seed producers. In the past we would have to order a couple of years out. Minituber production would help with this. Minituber production is more of an industry project than a Penn State project.

Wegmans has approached Keith about wanting an exclusive variety for them.

*Action item: Keith and Chris will explore collaboration on a minituber system and how Penn State could collaborate.

We need to promote and enhance the Pennsylvania seed industry. In the 1970s Penn State had a seed farm at Black Moshannon airport.

The industry wants mainly year 2 and 3 potatoes--not older than that.

Does Xinshun's program satisfy what growers need? Yes, says Keith. Put emphasis on early yellow and early high-yield chip varieties. Growers look for Penn State to screen out the best varieties, then growers do commercial variety testing on them.

The chip industry is gravity-solids driven. This is different from what Keith needs.

Xinshun's lab could test more varieties if they had more help. You do not need degrees for this work. But students go back to class in mid-August, and that is right when growers need them. Maybe a portfolio of undergrads with a listing of what time they are needed and available could be helpful. Could we add to the Watts Endowment for this, or set up another endowment? Keith thinks we could help get over barriers by tying the work to Dr. Barron's initiatives, including student-engaged learning, entrepreneurship, and student career success.

*Action item: Carolee will talk to Plant Science and Barb to investigate ways to identify and finance students to work on the Rock Springs farm. Is there a way to connect to the student farm? Perhaps a stipend to the student farm in return for work? Carolee will talk with other departments that have farms at Rock Springs.

Promote and enhance seed industry in Pennsylvania. We need more knowledge and research in minituber production. Customers are driving this, as are disruptions in the seed supply. It is hard to get the best varieties for Pennsylvania to be grown as seed out of state. For example, no one is growing Lehighs for seed. This is a growth opportunity for the industry.

*Action item: Explore possibility of applying for a grant through SARE for minituber production for next year.

PCR-based markers are used to evaluate some diseases and have quick turnaround to inspect seed lots. In Europe, it is all PCR-based; they do not do grow outs.

Penn State is considering developing a new Center for Molecular Diagnostics, in collaboration with the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. Otherwise this type of work will be done by ad hoc people such as María. To develop primers for PVY and Dickeya, or basically any virus, would have to tie in with the state.

*Action item: On the next phone call with PDA, Bob and Carolee will talk about this issue. Start with Dickeya, and seed certification can come from there.

There are three seed growers in Pennsylvania. Troyer Brothers grows seed but does not sell it. They grow it in Florida. So there are essentially two Pennsylvania seed growers. The certification program keeps Barnett Farms going. Seed inspection occurs in Potter County, too. Johnny Zook at PDA runs the seed certification programs.

We should invite microbiome, soil fertility, and entomologists next year to this meeting. Thinking about the list from Barb of people who could work on potatoes, Shelby Fleischer (Entomology) works on potatoes occasionally. John Tooker (Entomology) really does not; he works on field crops.

The industry relies on chemical companies for insect controls now. For the moment the controls are working well. The growers are not sure what they need from entomologists right now, although the Colorado potato beetle is not yet licked.

If soil health/fertility people are not currently involved with potatoes, they may have to be enticed into the industry with startup grants.

*Action item: Carolee will have a soil scientist come to the next meeting and maybe someone from the microbiome group. Carolee will talk to Mary Ann Bruns, a soil microbial ecologist.

The soil testing program at Penn State's Ag Analytical Lab is almost unusable for potatoes because the recommendations have not been looked at for thirty years.

*Action item: Carolee or Beth should contact Elsa Sanchez and John Spargo to ensure that potato information gets updated in Ag Analytical Lab recommendations.

Trends in variety purchasing (as in apples). This is not practical for Pennsylvania until we have a fuller suite of stable varieties.

*Action item: Carolee will organize this strategic planning and collaboration meeting next year on March 27, 2018. She will do it yearly until the growers say they no longer want it. If other people should be invited, let her know. We might want to use that meeting to brainstorm a research proposal.

Communication. There are communications experts on campus, but the group decided this is not yet a priority. The co-op may want to engage such an expert for communication with their customers. Contact Carolee to be connected to someone in the ag communications group, in rural sociology, or the College of Communications.

Idaho tax on Russet Burbank: If Pennsylvania produced its own seed, this issue would become more important. No action item at this time. Also no action item on a parallel requirement to Idaho's requirement to put the variety name on the bag.

GMOs: Yinong Yang sought funding from the potato industry. Nolan is concerned about GMO potatoes getting mixed with non-GMO potatoes.

Rob is also concerned about them mixing in, not because he personally thinks it is an issue, but because the public in general is concerned. Simplot Innate--they want royalties back. It is not going to work. Wise cannot mix GMO and non-GMO and send material over U.S. borders. They are an international company. They cannot take the time to separate GMOs from non-GMOs, so they just do not buy GMOs.

A GMO potato is very different from a potato adapted using CRISPR, which is less objectionable for people and less discoverable by the public. USDA has said they will not regulate CRISPR products, but the FDA has not yet ruled on this. They probably do not have authority to regulate. We have no action item for GMOs at this time.

Keith: It is customer-driven. His company could benefit from these technologies if they could, for example, ensure longer shelf life, but if customers will not buy these products, it is no use. Martin's potato bread is Masser's biggest customer. At Keystone Potato Products, LLC, we could end up with GMO potatoes in our flakes without knowing it. Companies cannot push GMOs into the system, GMOs have to be pushed on them by consumers. Keith and Rob wish it would be accepted by customers because the industry needs it.

Industry investments in Penn State have benefited faculty and growers.

Keith: If Xinshun's lab requires additional, inexpensive labor, this is low-hanging fruit. Mike also notes that they could use a new truck. Could Watts endowment be used, in part?

Appendix A

Industry Attendees

Bryan Bender, Bender Potatoes
Jon Blass, Coolridge Farms
Curtis Frederick, Sterman Masser, Inc.
Robert E. Leiby, Crop Consultant, Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, Inc.
Keith Masser, Sterman Masser, Inc.
Nolan Masser, Vice-Chair, Red Hill Farms, Inc.
Chris Robbins, Barnett Farms
Rob Wenrich-Wise Foods, Inc.

PPEM Attendees

Carolee T. Bull, Department Head, Professor of Plant Pathology and Systematic Bacteriology
Beth Gugino, Associate Professor, Vegetable Pathology
María del Mar Jiménez-Gasco, Associate Professor, Coordinator and Adviser of the Minor in Plant Pathology
Sara May, Coordinator, Plant Disease Clinic
Mike Peck, Research Technologist
Xinshun Qu, Research Associate

Other Attendees

Joy Drohan, Science Writer

Appendix B

Potato Stakeholder Meeting Schedule, March 28, 2017:

9:00-9:15AM Introductions
9:15-9:30AM Carolee Bull: Changes in the department and the college
Current and pending research
9:30-10:00AM Xinshun Qu: Update research from the Cultivar and Product Evaluation Team
10:00-10:15AM María del Mar Jiménez Gasco: Verticillium wilts
10:15-10:30AM Beth Gugino and Carolee Bull: Soft rot and blackleg
What are we seeing in and from the field?
10:30-10:45AM Sara May and Beth Gugino: Stories from the PPEM Plant Disease Clinic
10:45-11:00AM Access to pasture (Break)
11:00-12:00PM Industry observations
12:00-12:30PM Lunch
Strategic planning
12:30-1:00PM Review of top issues defined in 2016: Are there additional issues that need to be included?
1:00-2:00PM Prioritize tasks for the coming year
2:00PM-close Considerations for the next year's meeting

Contact Information

Carolee T. Bull, Ph.D.
  • Professor of Bacterial Systematics and Plant Pathology, Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology