News April 2022, North America, Production/Agronomy

WSU hires soil specialist as its first distinguished chair for potato agriculture

Launching Washington State University’s first distinguished program serving potato agriculture, Steve Culman will delve below the surface to keep a $7 billion Washington industry strong, WSU says in a news article.

Currently a state specialist in soil fertility for The Ohio State University, Culman joins the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) as its first Distinguished Endowed Chair in Soil Health for Potato Cropping Systems.

“I’m excited to start my next chapter and learn how we can better manage not just potatoes, but the broader potato cropping system: what’s grown before, how soil is treated, and how we can solve challenges,” Culman said.

Backed by a more-than-$3 million fund created by potato growers, processors, and suppliers, Culman will address priorities in irrigated agriculture, including the need to better understand and protect the soil. His research program will collaborate with scientists at the University of Idaho, Oregon State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as growers and processors, complementing WSU Extension efforts and the university’s Soil Health Program to develop better tools for soil health.

“Steve’s ideas and experience will help him sift through the complexities of our soil and unearth answers for potato agriculture,” said CAHNRS Interim Dean Richard T. Koenig. “His new research program wouldn’t exist without our partners in the potato industry, and I’m grateful and excited to see the advances it will bring for health, productivity, and sustainability.”

The Columbia Basin Soil Health for Potato Cropping Systems Working Group led development of the endowed position. 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 helps scientists prioritize research in potato production.

“Understanding the biology of our soils is vital to the long-term viability of potato farming in Washington,” said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission. “Dr. Culman’s work holds the potential for a sustainable future for potato farmers and helps maintain our ability to grow the highest potato yields in the world.”

Starting Aug. 1, 2022, Culman plans to meet with Washington potato growers, discuss their priorities, and identify short and long-term objectives, including creation of interdisciplinary teams to tackle major challenges, such as soilborne disease and soil fertility.

“Growing potatoes is a highly productive and highly intensive process,” he said. “There’s a wide diversity of rotation crops and grower constraints. Making sense of all those systems will be a grand challenge for me.”

“If we’re going to improve the system, it’s not by standing on the outside—it’s by working with farmers to find solutions,” Culman said. “The way things are grown reflect what we value and what we want to pay for, protect, and think about. My goal is to improve fertility and the health of our soil, and to do that while we grow food.”

Source: Washington State University CAHNRS News. Read the full news article here
Photo: Examining field crops in the Midwest, Steve Culman, soil fertility scientist at The Ohio State University, will join Washington State University in 2022 as the first industry supported endowed chair in potato agriculture.

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