Sustainable Potato Production
Spud Producers Pick Up Cost-Cutting Production Methods
|Nate Jones (pictured with son, Hollister) participated in the Magic Valley, Idaho, farmers network, which worked with the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides to plan educational tours and workshops about sustainable potato production. Photo by Karen Murphy.|
Idaho potato growers, facing an economic squeeze between low market prices and climbing production costs, flocked to venues to learn about new, economical growing methods and peer support systems in a SARE-funded project coordinated by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP). Close to 500 potato farmers attended workshops and farm tours to gain firsthand knowledge about such things as using compost and green manure to build healthy soils, ways to break up weeds, pests and diseases in cropping systems, and how to conduct on-farm research.
Eight sustainable farming alternatives workshops held at conferences in Idaho, Oregon and California drew interested growers, 90 percent of which ranked them as good or excellent in post-event evaluations. Tours of successful farms showcased living examples; at the Bryant Ranch in Shoshone, Idaho, growers saw the system-wide approach Fred and Judy Brossy use to raise organic potatoes, beef cattle and crops such as dry beans, wheat, alfalfa hay and vegetables.
The whole-farm tour emphasized how the beef cattle operation works synergistically with the other crops in an intricate rotation. Throughout, the discussions the workshops and tours spawned proved valuable. Farmers excited about cooperative efforts to market potatoes and share production information formed an active grower network. Many farmers are ripe for adopting more sustainable options, said Jeff Rast, who coordinated the project for NCAP and estimates that at least a few of the growers have changed their growing practices to match what they saw. Our conferences and workshops were set up to stimulate discussion, but each time I was surprised at the intensity and productivity of their discussions.
One of the farmer networks has teamed with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and is close to securing an agency commitment to funnel more funds into local and regional potato promotions. Another key component of the project was to educate agricultural lenders about the importance of funding alternative growing systems. NCAP staff assembled informational packets and plans a training session at the state banking associations annual meeting.
[For more information, go to http://www.sare.org/projects and search for SW98-031]