Resistance issues, management strategies and pathogens both new and old.
Just a few of the issues that had potato growers’ attention at the 2018 Potato Production Days Jan. 23-25 at Brandon’s Keystone Centre.
Dan Sawatzky, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association, said that exhibitor turnout was roughly the same as previous years.
“We always have a few on the waiting list and we were able to squeeze a few more in, so we’re up a little bit,” he said. “On the equipment side, it’s similar to last year, but we’ve squeezed a little bit more equipment in among the smaller booths as well, just to make sure that people get traffic throughout the show.”
About 530 participants were expected through the doors.
This year’s show had more precision agriculture presence, including the debut of drone demonstrations. Sawatzky says he expects new technology will continue to draw interest as producers look to boost yield with what he says are older potato varieties like Russet Burbank.
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“In many other sectors of agriculture they’ve relied on new genetics and that sort of thing to improve yield,” he said. “We’re having to rely on more precise management and just better management overall.”
This year’s speakers tackled disease and damage diagnosis, drones, seed and vine management, weeds and rapidly rising concern over resistance, both in fungicide for early blight and Colorado potato beetle.
The pest has been on the rise in recent years, according to Dr. Tracy Shinners-Carnelley of Peak of the Market.
“What we’ve been seeing in the last number of years is this prolonged period of time when overwintering adult beetles are emerging,” she said.
Growers in central Manitoba have noted beetles emerging from late May right into July, complicating control by staggering beetle development, she said.
“We have many different life cycles at the same time… going forward with a lot of these reduced risk insecticides, it’s really important to target those specific stages, but from a grower perspective when you get into the field, how do you focus on those particular stages when you’ve got everything?” she said.
Peak of the Market isn’t the only one to mark the trend. John Gavloski, entomologist with Manitoba Agriculture, noted that Titan and Aspire failed to stop the bugs in a number of fields, according to the 2017 provincial insect summary.
Producers had to turn to foliar applications of Delegate, something that Shinners-Carnelley says worked well.
The vice-president of research and quality at Peak of the Market, Shinners-Carnelley helped oversee a pesticide efficacy trial near Winkler last year. Her trial showed beetle populations dropped from over 100 beetles per 10 plants to negligible after both an early- and late-July application of Delegate. Exirel had similar, if slower results, when applied to plots topping 50 beetles per 10 plants in early August.
Fungicides are facing similar resistance problems, Dr. Neil Gudmestad told the room Jan. 24. The North Dakota State University professor noted a once rare, but increasing mutation in early blight with a high resistance to boscalid, the active ingredient in several common fungicides. Those issues led him to recommend farmers stop using Endura all together. Luna Tranquility has dodged the issues so far, he said, but should drop back to one application a season to avoid problems.
Gudmestad also spoke on black dot management, something Manitoba doesn’t have much experience with, but that Sawatzky tagged as an emerging concern.
“Often, what they’re seeing there, it doesn’t take long and it’s something that migrates this way as well,” Sawatzky said. “Black dot is another disease that we’ve kind of noticed a little more and needed a little more understanding of, so that drove that decision to have that topic here.”
Sustainability may be a standard topic for agriculture, but it also confuses both producers and consumers, according to keynote speaker Dr. Jed Calquhoun.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison professor cited lack of consumer knowledge, a mishmash of eco-labelling, problems with on-farm measurements and what he says is a mistaken belief from producers that sustainability will add value to the product.
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“It’s really about values and trade-offs, and those values and trade-offs, again, are hard to communicate, but they’re the reality of agriculture that you are all living,” he said.
“It is not just about growing more potatoes,” he added. “We often hear about the complexity of our world’s population over the next 50 years doubling in size and nutritional sustainability, which is certainly important, but when it comes down to it, it’s not just about growing more food to feed that population. And I would put forward that much of what we talk about in sustainability is related to input per unit of output. How many gallons of water does it take to grow a bag of potatoes?”
While sustainability has become a go-to phrase in marketing, consumers may not understand the underpinning factors, he said. A dining room survey at his own university showed that 12.9 per cent of students asked did not know what “grown under a third-party audited food safety program” meant, while 8.4 per cent didn’t have an intellectual handle on a “certified carbon footprint,” and “verifiable sustainable practices” eluded 4.1 per cent of those asked.
Adding to that confusion, there are 148 eco-labels in North America touting different promises of sustainability to the consumer.
“It’s very crowded in the marketplace and difficult to interpret,” Calquhoun said.
No bang for the buck?
Farmers should not expect that sustainability will add to their bottom line, listeners heard. The same dining hall survey indicated that taste, nutrition, appearance and cost were far more likely to affect buying decisions than sustainability or a carbon footprint.
Sustainability is also not going away, Calquhoun said. At the same time, there is little financial reason for farms to buy in. Certification includes more traceability and paperwork, but without the promise of a premium price. Likewise, certification might become an ongoing process as programs improve and farmers are asked to update, something that beef producers are facing right now as food safety program Verified Beef Production switches over to the more sustainably minded Verified Beef Production Plus.
Sawatzky said he was pleased by the variety of topics in the speaking schedule this year. The schedule was rounded out by research on seed crop management and how it affects the following crop, as well as an update on product facing regulatory changes in the next few years.