Potatoes grown in Galena, Alaska, in summer 2008After examining potatoes from all across Alaska, SNRAS Instructor Jodie Anderson confirmed that the crop is relatively free from viruses. “It’s pretty exciting that we are as clean as we thought we were,” she said, “because pathogens can reduce production yields, especially in commercial fields.”
In the summer of 2008, Anderson and Principal Investigator Jeffrey Smeenk were funded by USDA/ARS Integrated Pest Management Projects to take an extensive look at non-commercial potatoes around Alaska, working from the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer. “We thought the state had a very low presence of vector-transmitted potato viruses,” Anderson said. “We do have some aphids and leaf hoppers that transmit certain potato viruses but not large quantities.”
Anderson requested potato samples from eighty-eight non-commercial growers, who get their seed potatoes from multiple sources. There are concerns that people could be bringing diseased potatoes into the state. Part of the study helped determine where growers purchase their seeds. “We found out many people don’t keep their own seed,” Anderson said.
Because commercial-scale seed growers primarily purchase certified seed potatoes for their plantings the inspection and certification process of the Division of Agriculture ensures that they are planting clean seed.
Each of the participants sent Anderson three tubers for a greenhouse grow-out study. She requested a sample from the worst-looking plant and one from a great-looking plant, thinking that the sick plant might be infected. The plants that grew from these tubers were assayed for several potato viruses. “We found a very low amount of viruses,” she said.
Maintaining Alaska’s reputation of clean seed, because of its isolation from other potato growing regions has economic implications, as there is the potential for selling seed potatoes to Outside growers. “It’s a step in that direction,” Anderson said. “I am hoping the science behind this will show how virus-free Alaska’s potatoes are.”
As the work continues, Anderson and Smeenk will also try to create best management practices for potato growth, harvest, and storage, then reach out to the public with that information through SNRAS publications and UAF Cooperative Extension Service. “We need to let people know what diseases we are identifying in the state and what to do so we can help them manage their potatoes in the best way.”
The current project expires this year- after five years. The new project, in cooperation with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, will study integrated pest management for potatoes for another five years. “We will work on pathogen identification, along with weed management,” Anderson explained.
Smeenk and Anderson are also beginning a three-year project involving community plots in Galena, Nome, Bethel, Dillingham, Kasilof, Palmer, and Two Rivers. Each site will receive five varieties of potatoes to grow in their 20 x 30 plots, and the participants will send samples back to Anderson for a winter grow-out. Leaf tissue will be sent to an Outside lab for viral examination as well as yield information. “I have worked with these communities before and they expressed interest in sustainability and increasing their food security and food variety as well,” Anderson said.
Potatoes, the state’s number one vegetable crop, are versatile, functional, and easy to grow. “We couldn’t have done this study without the input of the Alaskans who participated,” Anderson said. “This research helps move toward securing the future of Alaska potato production.”
Potato Variety Performance, Alaska 1996, by D. E. Carling and M.A. Boyd, Circular 110 June 1997, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, UAF (PDF)