Wisconsin potato growers stay ahead of blight

08/21/2013 09:36:00 AM
Coral Beach

Russets from the 2013 harvest at Okray Family FarmsCourtesy Okray Family FarmsPotato packing lines across Wisconsin such as this one at Okray Family Farms, Plover, Wis., are rolling as growers move toward full-on harvest mode. Some media reports about late blight have exaggerated the situation, which growers and scientists say will not impact volumes or quality this season.Although late blight has been confirmed in 12% of Wisconsin’s counties, growers took aggressive action to control the disease and are predicting full yields and high quality potatoes of all varieties this season.

“What I really dig about commercial growers in Wisconsin is how proactive they are in situations such as this,” said Dick Okray, secretary-treasurer of Okray Family Farms, Plover, Wis.

“They are out there in the fields with their boots on the ground and their eyes on the plants and when they see something, they take action.”

Duane Maatz, president of the Wisconsin Potato Growers Association in Antigo, agreed.

“The growers are very diligent about fungicides,” Maatz said. “I’m not aware of any issues with the blight. Our research team is way ahead of the curve and keeps our growers up to speed so they know when to take action.”

One of the researchers who works closely with growers on control of late blight in both potatoes and tomatoes is assistant professor Amanda Gevens, a plant pathologist with the University of Wisconsin’s Extension Service. She was in the field Aug. 20 checking the blight situation.

Dick Okray and Duane MaatzSecretary-treasurer of Okray Family Farms, Plover Wis., Dick Okray, left, and Duane Maatz, president of the Wisconsin Potato Growers Association, both said neither volumes nor quality of the state's fresh potato crop will be hurt by small, isolated outbreaks of late blight.“We began seeing some in July in potatoes,” Gevens said. “But the growers have managed it well. It’s not uncommon for us to have it in this many counties in recent years. The growers are on the ball. It’s expensive to apply fungicides, but they know the devastating potential of the disease.”

Late blight, which caused the Irish potato famine in the 1850s, had been confirmed in nine of Wisconsin’s 72 counties as of Aug. 20. Gevens said the forecasting tool on the university extension website helped growers stay ahead of the disease this year.

Maatz said Wisconsin growers started harvesting potatoes a few weeks ago. He anticipates harvest to be in full swing the second week of September. He said yields should be typical, with the blight not expected to result in any crop losses.

Okray said he expects yields to be “close to the trend line” and quality to be very high.

“This year is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Okray said of the quality of the Wisconsin spuds. “I attribute it to the cooler summer and the slow snow melt that recharged our aquifer. Then we got a lot of rain and didn’t have to put a lot of water on these potatoes.”

Russell Wysocki, president and chief executive officer of RPE Inc., Bancroft, Wis., also said Mother Nature had been particularly cooperative this year.

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