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Million Dollar Endowment for Potato Storage Research

MILLION DOLLAR ENDOWMENT for Potato Storage Research.

In late March, Wayne Thiessen and his wife Peggy took a trip to Moscow, Idaho for the grand opening of the new Seed Potato Germplasm Laboratory at the University of Idaho. Wayne and Peggy are both U of I alums, but they weren’t there just as spectators. The dean of the college of agriculture and life sciences spoke about the research done around the state by the university.

“And this includes the recent hire of the “Wayne Thiessen Potato Research Professorship,” an endowed position made possible by the generous support of Wayne and Peggy Thiessen, the Idaho Potato Commission, Northwest Farm Credit services and McCain Foods,” said Michael Parrella
Dean, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“That position will be located at our Kimberly Research and Extension Center and will be held by Gustavo Teixeira who will be joining the faculty in April. And one thing that Gustavo will be doing is looking at the physiological aspects of potato storage, and as many of you know potato storage in Idaho is very, very important,” said Parrella.

“The endowment that we participated in was the opportunity that my wife and I had based on my employment at Ore-Ida Foods and the benefit program they offered us to accumulate some funds that could be designated to a 501c3 (nonprofit) event, and we thought the potato industry had been good to us and potato storage was so critical to our processing potatoes for 9 to 12 months of the year – potato research storage would be appropriate,” said Wayne Thiessen.

“Worked for Ore-Idaho Foods for 22 years, I worked for the University of Idaho for 6 as an extension soil specialist and the fact that I had some success in the potato industry, they were good to me. It was a way that we could create, an opportunity to create a 1 million research professorship. We donated 500,000 dollars and that was seed money if the Idaho Potato Commission was interested in the same program, we had a deal. We had a million-dollar potato research position to be funded.

They matched that amount, that was contingent on my gift.

He’ll be based in Kimberly at the Potato Storage Facility with Nora Olsen,” said Thiessen.

The Idaho Potato Commission already invests over half a million dollars in potato research funding to the university each year.

The reason the Potato Commission puts the dollar amounts that they do in here… and we would put more if we had more money, that’s how confident we are in the research team that is at the University of Idaho and working solely on potatoes,” said Nick Blanksma, Elmore County Farm Bureau President.

 “Storage is huge. You’ve got to think about it. We harvest for about three months out of the year. So, the other nine months out of the year we have to pull out of storage in order to have a year-round supply of potatoes being supplied to our customers and to consumers throughout the world.

“So having a storage physiologist, somebody who can work with us amongst emerging varieties, you know new varieties, old varieties, anything we can do to enhance the quality of the  product, and to be able to have a consistent, steady supply to all of the consumers; that’s what we’re after with that position,” said Blanksma.

“It’s just important to understand the diseases. And each variety has different storage characteristics, so you have to alter your temperatures, you have to understand what chemistries work with the storage, and what doesn’t,” said Potato growers and former commissioners Doug Gross & Mary Hasenoehrl.

“That’s crucial, so that when we have issues with storage, potato storage we can go to that researcher and that researcher is going to know the answer to our problems and… or he’ll help us find them. Yes, Exactly.”

Thiessen says he wanted to give back to the industry that gave him his career, and that by finding ways to reduce potato shrinkage, rot, and disease, they could build on the work that already been done to make potato storage more effective.

“There are a number of ways that you experience storage loss and we felt like the research potato professor could make a contribution to aid the industry, both processors, fresh packers, dehydrators by defining better storage practices and having those implemented by potato growers and processors across the state, “said Thiessen.

For the Voice of Idaho Agriculture, I’m Paul Boehlke.