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WSU creates new endowed chair in soil health to support potato agriculture

Launching new research in support of Washington potato growers, Washington State University is partnering with industry leaders to study healthier, more sustainable and productive soils. This was announced in a recent news release issued by WSU.

Backed by a more-than-$3 million fund created by potato growers, processors, and suppliers, WSU’s newly created Distinguished Endowed Chair in Soil Health for Potato Cropping Systems will address priorities in irrigated agriculture, including the need to better understand and protect the soil we rely on to grow potatoes, a critical part of our global food supply.  A national search for a top scientist will begin this year.

The potato crop in Washington creates $7.4 billion in economic activity and 35,000 jobs from value-added processing and exports, making potatoes one of the state’s most important crops.

“Our new chair will address a challenge of major importance to the potato industry—how to manage soil health and protect the vital ecosystem that allows us to grow healthy, high quality potatoes.” said Scot Hulbert, associate dean for research at WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS). “A better understanding of how to manage the health and productivity of our soils will improve the sustainability of potato farming, and ultimately the financial sustainability of growers in the Pacific Northwest.”

“We’re recruiting a talented scientist and partner who can sift through the complexities of the soil and unearth valuable answers,” said Rich Koenig, chair of WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

The industry-created endowment will develop an applied research program that closely collaborates with other Pacific Northwest researchers at the University of Idaho, Oregon State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as potato growers and processors. It will complement other research and extension efforts by WSU and its statewide Soil Health Program to develop improved methods and tools for monitoring and managing soil health.

The new chair will join the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, home to much of CAHNRS’ cropping systems and soil science research.

The Columbia Basin Soil Health for Potato Cropping Systems Working Group led development of the endowment. Made up of industry leaders from AgriNorthwest, Corteva Agriscience, J.R. Simplot Company, Lamb Weston, McCain Foods, Oregon Potato Company, Stahl Hutterian Brethren, Trical Soil Solutions, and the Washington State Potato Commission, the group will help WSU scientists prioritize research in potato production.

“Washington state’s growing conditions, including our soil, contribute to our state having the highest potato yields in the world,” said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission.  “Understanding the biology of our soils is vital to the long-term viability of potato farming in Washington. This work has the potential to create an even more sustainable future for our potato farmers, allowing our state to continue to produce high yields of great potatoes for generations to come.”

“The drive and involvement of the Working Group and the support of growers and industry makes this work possible,” Hulbert said. “Their partnership with WSU enables discoveries of great benefit to agriculture in Washington and across the nation.”

“Soil is one of the most valuable components of a great potato crop,” said Rich Burres, manager of sustainable agriculture at Lamb Weston. “We need great potatoes to meet global demand for french fries. Supporting this effort with the University is a critical step for us, as we work to ensure the long-term viability of potato farming in the Pacific Northwest.”

The Distinguished Endowed Chair will be based on the Pullman campus, with field research being conducted in the Columbia Basin.

  • To support the Distinguished Endowed Chair in Soil Health, please contact Nicholas Dolce, CAHNRS senior director of development, at [email protected].

Source: WSU news release

Media contact and author:

  • Seth Truscott, communications coordinator, WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, 509-335-8164, [email protected]
  • Photo: Faculty, students, and college leadership share research at the 2019 WSU Potato Field Day. | WSU
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