SCHNECKSVILLE, Pa. — More than 50 growers attended Eastern Pennsylvania Potato Day on March 6 at the Schnecksville Grange Hall.
The annual meeting featured variety trial reviews, Extension information, presentations from two companies on various controls for disease management, and discussions on seed certification, pest control and plant health.
Mike Peck, a research technologist for plant pathology and environmental microbiology with Penn State’s potato research program, reported on findings from the 2017 potato trials.
Test varieties grown in Rock Springs, and Lehigh, Northampton and Erie counties were measured for yield, size, gravity, maturity, tuber characteristics, and external and internal quality.
The varieties were also put through french fry, chipping and cooking tests, and measured for disease resistance.
Some of this testing was funded through a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and by the Snack Food Association.
Peck said some of the late-season varieties succumbed to cold weather, which also affected chip color and the ability to dig all the trials.
He noted an uptick in hollow heart throughout many of the varieties, particularly at Rock Springs, which he also attributed cold and rainy weather.
Some experimental varieties from previous years will be cycled out and brought back only if they receive names. After the trials, 2,000 pounds of harvested potatoes were donated to Meals on Wheels and 4,000 pounds to food banks in Altoona and Huntingdon County.
Jim Harvey of Penn State updated growers on the Worker Protection Standard, including family-hire exemptions, pesticide safety, employee protective equipment, decontamination, monitoring procedures and new rules for respirator fit tests.
If a grower is using a pesticide whose label requires a respirator, an annual fit test is required unless pre-empted with a medical evaluation.
Harvey stressed the need to review labels for the word “required,” noting that in the past the Environmental Protection Agency found that filters in respirators were not being changed and more precautions were needed.
Harvey recommended a powered air purifier because it includes a shroud and pushes clean air to the wearer, making it easier on the heart and lungs. But a medical evaluation is still necessary.
A grower can take the medical evaluation online, and Harvey said folks have had luck with the respexam.com website.
The medical evaluation can be a one-time process or result in a recommendation based on the results that the grower should be evaluated again at a later date or have a full physical.
Smoking and other pre-existing health conditions can play a role in the evaluation’s outcome.
The annual fit test can be performed at home with a kit, or possibly at a contractor or fire company.
Harvey recommended that a grower have a professional test done at least the first year and make sure the employees using pesticides requiring respirators are trained on seal checks, filter changes and other protocols.
Later this year, EPA will accept comments on the rule governing application exclusion zones, designated representatives and age.
Harvey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-863-8214 for more information.
Curtis Frederick, a senior agronomist at Sterman Masser Inc., discussed the importance of bolstering the production of russets, which make up 60 percent of potato sales in Pennsylvania.
He discussed future trials of russet varieties in several areas of the state, focusing on attractiveness, stable yields and processing traits.
Doug Gergela of the TriEst Ag Group talked about his company’s chloropicrin-based soil fumigation products, which have increased yields, suppressed potato diseases and rapidly degraded with little residue.
Sudeep Mathew from Syngenta talked about potato disease management, focusing on various products for field use based on a particular grower’s issues with a crop.
Bob Leiby, an agronomist for Pennsylvania Co-operative Potato Growers Inc., discussed soil health for potatoes, seed certification, plant health and pest management.
Leiby said 5 tons of topsoil per acre per year has been considered an acceptable loss in potato production. However, as little as 0.03 inches of topsoil is not easy to replace, with an inch taking 500 to 1,000 years to create.
Leiby suggested broadcast-seeding a cover crop after vine kill or spinning on cereal rye or spring oats after the final tillage before planting, which would get knocked back in the first herbicide application.
“Anything you can do to keep more plants growing and less bare soil is better for that organic matter,” he said.
The 2018 temperature outlook suggests a hot and wet season ahead, which means growers should be on the lookout for black leg and late blight.
Leiby said that last season he noticed a number of volunteer plants emerging from 2015 plantings, and he cautioned growers that these volunteers can carry diseases across seasons in fields that are now, for instance, in corn.
Leiby discussed the “real problem” with certified seed. Seed certification programs were started 100 years ago to prevent the mixing the seed. However, mosaic virus levels are not decreasing in the United States in spite of these programs.
Seed-borne illnesses are a systemic problem for growers. “This is being recognized as a national problem,” he said.
A task force is being assembled to start a conversation about improving seed certification programs, he said, and certifying soil health, vector records and other factors will play into this discussion.
Mathew added that in-season testing should be an important consideration in this process.
Leiby reiterated the need to ask for seed certificates and lot records when purchasing seed potatoes.
Leiby finished the day with a piece of potato grower history, showcasing a 400 Bushel Club plaque that dates back to 1919 and Oscar Lichtenwalner’s 519 bushels from Lehigh County.
Lichtenwalner’s great-grandson Mark Lichtenwalner, who continues to grow potatoes at Donald Lichtenwalner Farms in Macungie, spoke briefly about his ancestor’s use of a three-year rotation with small grains and mammoth clover.
Liz Wagner is a freelance writer in eastern Pennsylvania.