North America, Research, Storage, Trends

‘Waste less’: New U of I potato storage researcher aims to minimize post-harvest losses

Gustavo Teixeira knows the best way to supply more food to a growing population is by wasting less of it. As a new assistant professor and potato postharvest physiologist with University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Teixeira will use advanced scientific techniques to help Idaho potato growers, processors and shippers waste fewer of the spuds they harvest. 

His position was made possible by a $1 million endowment, thanks to Wayne and Peggy Thiessen, the Idaho Potato Commission, Northwest Farm Credit Services and McCain Foods. 

Teixeira, who started working at U of I’s Kimberly Research and Extension Center on April 11, took the job because he liked the challenge it afforded, in addition to the opportunity it provided him to help the potato industry tackle real-world problems. 

“Sometimes we can conduct research and the research is not connected with the industry. I figured I was missing that in my career,” Teixeira said. “To have this hand-to-hand collaboration is really important, not just to collaborate with industry, but to have research that will benefit the state economy and save resources.”

He and his wife, Izabelle Teixeira, moved to Idaho from Brazil. She, too, has joined the CALS faculty, working with the Department of Animal, Veterinary and Food Sciences. She’ll be involved in the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment and will work closely with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy at the Federal University of Lavras in Brazil in 1998. He then earned a master’s degree in 2000 and a Ph.D. in 2005, both from Brazil’s São Paulo State University (UNESP). 

In pursuit of his doctorate, Teixeira did part of his studies at the Department of Primary Industries, Queensland in Australia, focusing on the control of browning in fresh-cut carambola. He also took several postharvest courses abroad, including those organized by the Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena in Spain, by the Volcani Center in Israel and by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute in Malaysia.

From 2017 through 2019, he did a sabbatical at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. There he researched the use of mycosporine-like amino acids to control photo-oxidation of tea. He also studied the quality of apple fruits produced using conventional and organic production systems, which is influenced by the microbial communities on the surface of apples, to find ways to stimulate healthy communities for benefits in both commercial and organic fruit production.

After the sabbatical, Teixeira returned to Brazil to be an associate professor at UNESP. But he was impressed by American agricultural research and his experience in the U.S. sparked his desire to join a land grant college. He began seeking positions in the U.S.

Even before his first day on the job in the Magic Valley, Teixeira started writing research grants. His team has already been approved for a grant through the Northwest Potato Research Consortium to evaluate respiration rates of different potato varieties in storage at three different temperatures. The respiration rate correlates with the amount of heat spuds put off in storage and is also one of many factors affecting the duration for storing potatoes before quality deteriorates.

Teixeira’s findings should help guide future management decisions, including if growers should avoid storing certain varieties in a common cellar. 

“Right away he’s going to cue in on something where there’s a gap of knowledge. … We have varieties we’re growing in the Northwest and we don’t know respiration values for them,” said University of Idaho Extension Potato Specialist Nora Olsen, who will work closely with Teixeira. 

Since 2010, Teixeira has conducted a lot of research using near-infrared spectroscopy, which uses the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum and can help evaluate food quality without destroying it. The technology has been commonly used in Europe. Teixeira plans to partner with a Ph.D. student in Brazil who has been using the technology to assess purple-and orange-fleshed potato varieties based on their content of nutrients such as anthocyanins and carotenoids. 

The student will soon travel to Idaho, where Teixeira will test his models on varieties of importance in the Northwest. Shippers may use the data to make a nutrition claim about certain varieties, potentially enabling them to charge a premium. The same technology can also be used to identify diseased spuds without damaging them. 

Despite his full research plate, Teixeira has agreed to help organize and convene the International Symposium on Postharvest Technologies to Reduce Food Losses as part of  the 31st International Horticultural Congress (IHC2022), scheduled for Aug. 14 in Angers, France. 

“I love organizing congresses and events,” Teixeira said. “I think it’s a nice opportunity for us to get to know people and to talk to students. For me, it’s one of the best opportunities of our careers.”

The Thiessens proposed the endowment for Teixeira’s position and challenged the IPC to match their initial contribution.

“I think the issue of optimization of potato storage/management is a major concern for all potato industry segments. … The goal is to minimize the losses which can occur during harvesting and storing and to deliver the optimal quality upon storage withdrawal to the end user,” Wayne Thiessen said. 

Travis Blacker, industry relations director with the IPC, added, “Every year we harvest 13 billion pounds of potatoes and a majority of those go into storage, so it’s very important that we’re storing these in the best possible conditions to make them last when we take them out of storage and process them or fresh pack them. 

“We need someone who studies storages all the time because there’s a lot of money sitting in those storages.”

Article author: John O’Connell, Assistant Director of Communications – College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(208) 530-5959

Photo: Gustavo Teixeira

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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