Jeff Stark’s retirement plans would just have to wait. With only two and a half weeks until his retirement, Stark was busy completing all the necessary paperwork for the release of the Galena Russet, a new potato variety.
Stark had been the director of the University of Idaho’s Potato Variety Development Program since 2006 and he estimated that the Galena Russet potato variety was the 22nd or 23rd variety released during that time.
With his retirement on Jan. 24, this would be the capstone to his career.
Stark came to Idaho in 1981 after completing his Ph.D. in soil science at the University of California at Riverside.
He was hired to be a UI research and extension potato specialist, but he was only a few months into that job when a position opened up for a research agronomist dealing with potatoes and small grains.
‘I decided that I would throw my hat in the ring and they said, OK, we’ll put you into that position as long as you help us find a replacement,’ Stark said. ‘So, I did and I guess that started my 23-year career working on management systems for potatoes and small grains.’
In 2005, Stark accepted the opportunity to become director of the Potato Variety Development Program. The last 15 years he has worked closely with members of the USDA program at Aberdeen as well as members of the tri-state potato breeding program, which includes researchers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
He spoke with a sense of accomplishment when discussing the varieties developed during the past 15 years through this team of researchers; however, he acknowledged that it can be difficult to persuade growers and processors to switch to newer varieties. Stark cited a number of varieties that have come through the Idaho program that have shown great potential return for growers and processors.
Stark said the success that he and the tri-state breeding program have enjoyed could not have been accomplished without the collaboration of everyone in the potato industry, from seed growers to commercial growers to packers.
‘I’ll also add that the industry collaborators that we’ve had have been key to any success that we’ve had,’ Stark said. ‘You have to have industry collaborators to make these things work or you’re going to have a train wreck…