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New Seed Potato Lab for Idaho Spuds

NEW SEED POTATO LAB FOR IDAHO SPUDS

“This is truly a great day for the University of Idaho and a great day for Idaho agriculture. Out state needs this facility, and together with our valued partners we were able to make it happen,” said University of Idaho President C. Scott Green.

“If you could only see the place that we were in before and what we have now… it’s amazing,” said Jenny Durrin, the Director of the Seed Potato Germplasm Program.

“We’re very excited for this new facility and we think that it is a huge asset for our state, especially for our industry and we’re so excited to see the future results that will come down the road from this,” said Jamey Higham, President & CEO, Idaho Potato Commission.

On March 29th the University of Idaho celebrated the official grand opening of the new Seed Potato Germplasm Laboratory on their campus in Moscow.

“It’s gorgeous for one thing. It’s not only a visually appealing building, it’s very functional, and I think having the people that work here and research here be able to design the facility was a major plus,” said Nick Blanksma, President of the Elmore County Farm Bureau, former Commissioner of Idaho Potato Commission.

“Obviously we’ve got this magnificent facility that’s really a testament to the physical aspects of return on investment. So, investment by the state, by the university, by private industry, private growers. But clearly the return on investment is going to occur in decades to come just based on the product that’s going to be produced here. And no matter how wonderful the facility is, it’s only as good as the people inside doing the work, and toward that end Jenny Durrin leading the group here as the director of the facility, I think we’re in good hands,” said Michael P. Parrella, Dean, of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“When I first moved in the excitement was pretty high, I mean I had the butterflies in my stomach, and I was just so excited to get in. I moved in and then I didn’t go back to the old facility. – laughs – So excited to be here,” said Durrin.

The program has two full time staff members and in peak times up to twelve students working in the lab getting hands on training and experience.

“We are called the Germplasm Laboratory which means I have a large collection of varieties of potatoes, and I ship those varieties all over the United States and all over the world.”

Through those germplasm transfers about 90% all the potatoes grown in Idaho can actually be traced back to this lab, and about 60% across the United States can also be traced back to this lab.

The germplasm program started nearly 40 years ago back in 1983 under Lorie Ewing, the founding director of the program. But the previous location on campus was too small and out of date. They never had any issues with contamination at the old facility, but the potential was there because of the tight quarters and common use spaces.

“I mean our space was very tiny, only this one part of our lab was our entire facility at the previous location,” said Durrin.

Durrin says they can produce three times as many plantlets as before, and there are new features like being able to change the color wavelengths of the light in the grow rooms to see what growing conditions are best.

The new facility is also designed to make the possibility of contamination basically a non-issue.

“I don’t have as much foot traffic, I don’t have people walking through the hallways in between our growth room and our tissue culture lab. And then bring plantlets through with students all around where I don’t know where they’ve been, what classes they’ve taken, if they’ve been in a greenhouse with pathogens in it. This facility is isolated and it’s away from any of those threats as I like to call them. And there’s also double doors entries, there’s many doors that you have to go to to actually get into the clean section, which would cut down on the chances of fungal and bacteria contaminants coming into the facility as well as small insects,” said Durrin.

“And then also potato pathogens such as potato viruses, potato fungal diseases and bacterial diseases. So those I could say the chances of them getting into the clean side are very, very low in this facility.”

“This is actually a negative air pressure room, and then the door in this intermediate area is positive air pressure. So, you’ll notice that the doors are really hard to open, and it’s acting to kind of push the dirty air out and to keep that air cleans,” said Durrin.

The new five and a half million-dollar facility was funded through a partnership with the State of Idaho, The Idaho Potato Commission, Northwest Farm Credit Services, and private donors Doug Gross and Mary  Hasenoehrl. They’re both former Idaho Potato commissioners, and grow potatoes in Wilder,  in southwest Idaho.

“The Idaho brand isn’t worth much without quality behind it,” said Doug Gross.

“And if we don’t keep up on that quality…  you know, you’ve gotta always be coming up with new varieties and new answers to potato problems. And so that all starts here, it all starts here,” said Hasenoehrl.

“Potato breeding is what’s going to help us tackle the future diseases the future diseases that we’re going to be facing and allows us to use less chemistry aa we grow the crops and be more sustainable,” said Gross.

“And a lot of people don’t realize how many different varieties of potatoes that there are. And then the different characteristics of each and how they will do well in different regions, or some are more drought resistant or they have earlier maturing, so customers from all over the world are looking for different varieties that will do well in their region, and we have a large collection here that I can share with them,” said Durrin.

In fact, they maintain disease free tissue cultures for about 300 different potato varieties, some with names you’re probably not be familiar with.

“Yeah, like Magic Molly, that’s a crazy one. We’ve got Purple Police. We have many, many different russets. Palisades russet, Premier russet, Rainier russet, Clearwater russet, Blazer russet, russet   Burbank… I mean many, many different types.”

“Idaho potatoes, world renowned, world famous. What we have here at the University of Idaho is a world class research team. And so world class potatoes, world class research in a world class university, now we have a world class building to go along with it and I couldn’t make me more proud as a producers in the state of Idaho,” said Blanksma.

“Our research helps farmers keep their crops healthy, and their fields productive. This facility is a critical element of that research, helping maintain potato varieties and support the work that goes in developing new varieties. This new laboratory is going to enable our potato farms to keep up with the  growing demand in the U.S. and around the world. It ensures that Idaho and the University of Idaho will continue to be known for our famous potatoes,” said Green.

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

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Paul Boehlke