By RACHAL PINKERTON
MOSES LAKE – There is a consensus that research in the area of potato soil health is a definite need. Members of the Washington State Department of Agriculture agree.
During the 2019 legislative session, the WSDA asked the governor’s office for $2.3 million for the soil health initiative WSDA is working on. It received $500,000. The WSDA was able to match some of it with specialty crop money. During the 2020 legislative session, WSDA is asking for $200,000.
Derek Sandison, director for the WSDA, said that field research is needed early on to determine why different soils and different areas have different results.
“We want to know why,” Sandison said. “We want to be able to demonstrate why that happens.”
The soil health initiative deals with four different cropping systems – vegetables, perennial crops including tree fruit and grapes, potato rotation and grain rotation – in both irrigated and dry land systems. It is being done in partnership with Washington State University, WSDA, Washington State Conservation Commission and the tree fruit industry. WSU is the entity conducting the research, while the conservation commission will distribute information found in the research.
In addition to the money from the state legislature, researchers have found grant money for certain pieces of the research.
“WSU will cobble together all that research that is being done and condense it down to an explanation of the best practices,” Sandison said. “We know there has been research done. We have to pull it all together.”
Through the soil health initiative, WSDA hopes that researchers will be able to figure out why some soils produce well and others don’t and what can be done to correct less-productive land.
“One of the areas with all of them is the microbiome,” Sandison said. “What’s the effect of different kinds of microbiome in terms of moving nutrients to what you are growing? Those are the kinds of things that we don’t have a handle on.”
Sandison said that other states, such as New Mexico and California, are also doing similar evaluations.
“Something found in New Mexico can correlate to something in Washington,” he said. “We may want to do that. The biggest difference is the climate or, in some cases, elevation that can’t make it directly transferable.”
The WSDA thinks that the primary research work to get the management practices may take two or three years. Sandison hopes that by year three, the information will be getting to land owners.
Funding for research into potato soil health is also being provided by potato processors. The Washington Potato Commission is hoping to raise $3 million by June of 2020.
Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.