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International Potato Center Founder Passes Away

Richard L. Sawyer, the founder of the International Potato Center (CIP) and its first director-general, passed away on March 9 in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Dr. Sawyer’s legacy is enormous. His project to begin a potato research for development institute in the potato’s center of diversity was visionary and this work has led to improved nutrition, health, and livelihood for millions of rural poor in Latin America, Africa, and Asia,” said Barbara Wells, CIP director-general. Sawyer retired in 1991 from CIP, which was created in 1971 and opened its doors in Lima, Peru in 1972. Sawyer’s vision and strong leadership were instrumental in the design of CIP’s research program and the opening of regional offices throughout the world. He also strongly supported the conservation of genetic diversity for crop improvement and the creation of a comprehensive genebank with collections of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and Andean roots and tubers.

U.S. Potato Board Hires Research Director

The U.S. Potato Board has hired its first-ever director of research and analysis. Ryan Krabill, who worked most recently as senior director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council, begins his now role at the Denver-based USPB on April 1. Krabill’s work for the NPC included working with Congress and national and state-level potato industry groups to support policy initiatives. In his new position at the USPB, Krabill will work with potato researchers to help advance potato research as well as secure additional funding for potato research initiatives.

Prison Terms for Insurance Fraud

Two North Dakota brothers were sentenced March 9 to prison time and ordered to pay back $932,000 for intentionally destroying potatoes to collect federal farm insurance payments. In separate hearings, U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson sentenced Aaron Johnson to four years in prison and Derek Johnson to 18 months in prison. A jury had earlier convicted the pair of conspiring to receive illegal payments and giving false statements. Prosecutors accused the brothers, who farmed potatoes near Northwood, N.D., of intentionally poisoning their potato seed during planting, as well as adding spoiled and frozen potatoes to their stored crop and using portable heaters to make the potatoes deteriorate faster.


Agri-Mek SC Offers Improved Insect/Mite Control

Syngenta Canada Inc. is offering Agri-Mek SC, a new miticide-insecticide formulation for use on specialty and horticulture crops, including potatoes. Agri-Mek SC provides control of several species of economically significant mites and insects, as well as onion thrips “Agri-Mek SC represents an improved standard for mite and insect control,” says Eric Phillips, product lead, fungicides and insecticides for Syngenta Canada. “Growers using the product can benefit from the concentrated formulation, which is effective at lower use rates and requires less product handling.” Agri-Mek SC is a group 6 insecticide powered by the active ingredient abamectin. The translaminar activity of abamectin allows it to be absorbed rapidly, forming a reservoir of active ingredient within the leaf to provide residual control against mites and insects.

Herbicide Label Expanded to Control Weeds on Potatoes

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency recently announced the approval of a minor use label expansion for Reflex herbicide for control of weeds on potatoes in Eastern Canada. This Syngenta herbicide was already labeled for management of weeds on beans and cucumbers in Canada. This minor use project was originally submitted by the Ontario government in 2012 as a result of minor use priorities established by growers and extension personnel in Canada.


Key Technology Expands Global Service and Support

Key Technology has expanded its global network of customer service and support. With the addition of a new online service portal, enhanced 24/7 telephone support, new spare parts depots, and more service technicians that bring localized support to more regions, Key is aiming to help food processors reduce costs, increase uptime and improve equipment performance. “Key already has a fantastic reputation for providing superior customer service worldwide. We’re also committed to continuous improvement,” said Mike Nichols, vice-president Global Aftermarket at Key Technology. “Our new service developments go above and beyond the industry norms in support of processors that rely on our digital sorting, conveying, and other food processing systems. It illustrates our dedication to taking exceptional care of all our customers.”


Consumers Willing to Pay More for GM Potatoes

New research from an Iowa State University economist found consumers were willing to spend more for genetically modified potato products with reduced levels of a chemical compound linked to cancer. Wallace Huffman, an agriculture and life sciences professor who contributed to the project, says the findings underscore the importance of efforts to educate consumers on the use of biotechnology in the production of healthful food. “This is a complicated issue so it’s important for consumers to get information on how the technology works and its potential benefits,” Huffman says. Acrylamide, a chemical compound that accumulates naturally in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures such as french fries and potato chips, has been linked in studies to the formation of cancer in animals. Potato growers have tried conventional plant breeding techniques to cut down on the formation of acrylamide, but biotechnology and genetic modification have yielded more promising results, Huffman says.

Growers Stand Up for Potatoes on Capitol Hill

On Feb.23 to 26, the National Potato Council hosted its 2015 Potato D.C. Fly-In, where more than 150 U.S. potato growers and industry partners from across the country came to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the industry’s most pressing federal policy priorities.  Growers blanketed Capitol Hill, meeting with more than U.S. Senate and House offices representing 22 states and met with federal regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. During their Hill visits, growers urged Congress to address key industry issues, including: funding for the potato research special grant; pollinator health; truck weight reform; and voluntary GMO labelling.

Levels of Zebra Chip Down in U.S. Pacific Northwest

Researchers say levels of zebra chip, a crop disease in potatoes spread by potato psyllids and caused by the Liberibacter bacterium, are dropping in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. A new study indicates the number of potato psyllids found harboring the Liberibacter bacteria dropped significantly during 2014. Zebra chip, which causes bands in potato flesh that darken when fried, first arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 2011. By 2012, infections remained minimal as a percentage of the overall Idaho crop but ran as high as 15 percent in certain spud fields, says University of Idaho Extension entomologist Erik Wenninger. In 2013, 33 of 1,093 psyllids captured through a UI monitoring program tested positive for Liberibacter. Just 170 psyllids were captured in 2014, with four testing positive for Liberibacter. No infected spud plants were found.

Experts Say Potatoes Contribute to National Security of India

Scientists who attended India’s International Potato Expo in January said that the potato has played an important role in the nutritional security of the country. “The challenge of food security is over, with abundant wheat and rice being grown in the country, but it is not providing nutritional security. We have to depend on potatoes to give proper nutrition to the country,” said BP Singh, director of the Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla, India.

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