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June 23: WSU Potato Field Day offers look at seed and pest studies, virus-sniffing dog

People congregate underneath tents by a potato field.
Participants gather at the 2019 WSU Potato Field Day at Othello.

At their 400-acre Othello research farm, Washington State University scientists study seed quality, new varieties, pests, and growing practices to help Northwest potatoes thrive and become better French fries, chips, and tots.

Growers can view the latest discoveries at the 2022 WSU Potato Field Day, Thursday, June 23, at Othello.

“Field days help everybody involved in potatoes, from researchers to growers and processors, share ideas and see what’s happening in our research,” said Mark Pavek, WSU professor, potato specialist, and event host.

The day includes guided tours and demonstrations, including a visit from a potato disease-sniffing dog, trained to sniff out Potato Virus Y, a serious pathogen facing Northwest growers.

Spread by aphids and via seeds from infected plants, Potato Virus Y causes lower yields and, in some cases, smaller, unsightly tubers with rings of dying flesh. Led by her handler Andrea Parish of Nose Knows Scouting, Zora, a black Labrador retriever, can detect infected potato tubers and plant materials. 

Zora, a black Labrador retriever, can detect infected potato tubers and plant materials. 

“In tubers, she can tell you instantly, yes or no,” Parish said. “She really enjoys working just to work.”

Scientists from WSU, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Montana State University, and the University of Idaho will discuss the disease, before launching the highlight of the event: commercial seed lot trials on health, quality, and performance of dozens of current potato varieties grown from seed. Plant disease experts from across the Northwest assist WSU scientists in studying and evaluating these lots.  

“The seed lot trial is both a quality control tool and a historical gauge for the industry, helping growers see how varieties perform, while giving us a way to recognize, diagnose, and identify seed-borne diseases and viruses,” Pavek noted. “We’ve been conducting these trials for 59 years in cooperation with growers and the Washington State Potato Commission.”

Field day presentations are split between sessions on cultural practices, and pests and diseases. Experts from across the Pacific Northwest will share promising chip and specialty varieties from the Tri-State Breeding Program, solutions for pest and disease control, and ideas for maximizing economic return, among more than a dozen topics.

A hosted lunch follows; educational credits will be available to growers.

The Othello research farm is located at 1471 W. Cox Rd.

To learn more, and register to attend, visit potatoes.wsu.edu.

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