Lots of interest, lots of people, at Manitoba Potato Production Days
By John Dietz
Approximately 500 growers and industry stakeholders attended the 2011 Manitoba Potato Production Days conference and trade show in the Brandon Keystone Centre, January 26 and 27.
The weather co-operated and the mood was good. Nearly everyone attended the formal sessions to learn about crop management and issues facing the industry. Between sessions, attendees were free to tour 70 displays set up by exhibitors with products, services and advice for potato growers.
First day session topics included five major presentations. Thursday morning, delegates split into two groups. One workshop was presented by Farm Credit Corporation representatives, as well as Jeff Afflec and Grant Hackman from Peak of the Market. They spoke about farm food safety and using FCC management software (Field Manager PRO) to its full potential.
In the other workshop, guests Robert Carter and David Hay spoke. Carter, a well-known advocate for Canada’s food service industry, discussed key trends in the US and Canadian restaurant marketplace. Hay, supervisor of nutrient management regulation for the Manitoba Water Stewardship Board, is charged with implementing the new regulation. His presentation detailed the progress to date and opened up a discussion on implications of the regulation for potato producers.
Joint presentations Thursday included: pesticide regulation and risk reduction at the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, developing improved sanitation protocols for potato storage and equipment, and physiological age of seed.
First Day Sessions
According to Dr. Tracy Shinners-Carnelley, director of Research and Quality Development with Peak of the Market, in Winnipeg, understanding fungicide lingo takes some effort but is worth it for the farm. In her address during Wednesday morning’s first session, Shinners explained terms like curative and anti-sporulant fungicide, eradicants and types of fungicidal activity. For instance, systemic fungicides move through the surface, but in different ways, described by terms like “true systemic,” “locally systemic,” and “translaminar.” Learn the terms, she advised, and try to use them consistently. Gary Secor, a senior plant pathologist from North Dakota State University, told growers that new types of late blight on potatoes were found in both North Dakota and Manitoba in 2010. For 2011, he said, plan to “spray early and spray often.”
Late blight only survives on living tissue; in seed potatoes, in cull piles and in volunteers. To start, destroy any cull piles that are still around. One infested seed potato, when cut by a blade, can start an epidemic, he warned. It only takes 12 infested plants per acre to have an epidemic as it multiplies during a season. It also can come in from infected greenhouse plants like tomatoes and petunias, and can come from adjacent gardens or an organic potato field that is nearby. It is a community disease that can spread fast and far. An arsenal of fungicides is available to stop it, and will be needed. Asked about copper spray treatment for organic growers, Secor said it is “dangerous” in that its effect may look good but that fails in effectiveness.
North America’s leading authority on pesticide management for potatoes, Alan Schreiber, spoke about current issues and the role of crop protectants. Schreiber is from the Columbia Basin in Washington state and president of Agriculture Development Group. Serving both conventional and organic growers on his own research farm, Schreiber screens more pesticides for potatoes than anyone else in North America.
Topics that spur debate
It may be controversial, but continued long term use of pesticides is in the best interests of consumers and industry, he said. The industry does need more research and development support to provide affordable pesticides that also will be less controversial. Potato processors should be paying for a portion of that research, he added. Pesticide use could be reduced, Schreiber said, if processors could accept fries that are less than cosmetically perfect, or if consumers would accept genetically modified (GM) potatoes. Half of pesticide use is for cosmetic reasons for buyers, not for yields, he said. On the positive side, Schreiber believes consumer acceptance of GM products is gradually improving.
An entomologist by training, and first-time visitor to Manitoba, Schreiber told his audience to be thankful for the climate. Pacific Northwest growers use about seven times as much pesticide as Manitoba growers, to deal with their issues. One thing he added; if growers do see one aphid in their farm storage, treat the whole unit as soon as possible.
Dr Gefu Wang-Pruski, a Chinese-Canadian molecular biologist at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, led off the afternoon discussion on use of phosphorous acid (PA) for late blight control. The acid is effective in late blight suppression. The best option containing PA and registered for Canadian growers is Confine. It is most effective when used in combination with Bravo, she said, in both lab and field trials. It should be applied at about the third leaf stage, and will work as a systemic in the plant. However, she added, the product will affect canopy height, canopy closure and maturity date on seed potatoes, so be careful with it. Her research on applications is continuing.
Filling in for Dr Rick Peters, from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s research centre in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, was pest management scientist Dr. Tracy Shinners-Carnelley, who gave a synopsis of Peters’ planned presentation on the use of phosphorous acid products for late blight control. Peters’ research indicates growers’ best option for treating late blight is a combination of Bravo and Confine, as foliar treatments for three to five applications through the season. Confine also can be applied to potatoes going into storage within six hours after harvest, but it should not be applied to seed. Post-harvest, it will stop or delay sprouting. In the field, Confine can be used as a tank mix or alone. Applied early, it will stimulate the plant’s own defense mechanism to boost disease resistance.
Idaho’s Miller Research spokesman, Dr. Jeff Miller, focused on what growers should know about post-harvest use of phosphorous acid (PA). He warned there are a lot of ways to do things incorrectly when treating potatoes going into storage. The treatment will not stop dry rot nor will it cure potatoes with disease; it only protects healthy tubers. Even application is important. Find an effective place in the line as tubers head to the storage pile, chose the right nozzles, and hit the tubers both top and bottom. For some situations, he suggested, it may be best to have a custom applicator do the spraying.
Three growers contributed thoughts about fertigation and how it has changed their farm. Most growers still apply 85 to 100 percent of their nitrogen in two or three early applications, said Wade Gerber, for Simplot Canada. Crops fail to get best bang for the buck, product leaches into the soil, and growers can be forced to re-apply at an additional cost of about $17,000 for a 500-acre potato farm. Fertigation, frequent small doses during a growing season, is based on actual nitrogen supply for growing plants. It requires sampling both soil and leaves, but leads to much more uniform tubers and more input control for growers.
Confirming Gerber’s view, growers Dennis Suderman, Sheldon Wiebe and Brent Metcalfe talked about their experience with changing to fertigation. Farming in the Winkler-Carman-Elm Creek area, Suderman found he used less nitrogen, had healthier plants and improved his quality with fertigation. He has had issues with accuracy and reliability of equipment for the application, but finds it is a very good tool for the farm. Farming now in the Sidney-Melbourne area east of Carberry, Wiebe tried fertigation for the first time in 2010. He had to purchase three large pumps to push the liquid nutrient through his irrigation system, but found “amazing” results. He plans to fertigate every field in 2011. From the Treherne-Rathwell area, Metcalfe began experimenting with fertigation in 2006. For 2011, he plans to apply his fertilizer through pivots. He believes fertigation reduced his disease pressure from late blight in 2010 as well as holding top growth to a minimum while building up tuber production. He tries to finish fertigation by Aug 1, and gradually reduces the amount applied during the season. He has found it best to have a fertilizer tank at every pivot along with a high capacity pump for fast application at each pivot.
Trade show products
Advanced Geo Positioning Solutions (AGPS) is turning up the sophistication available for growers who need to develop field drainage systems. The new Ditch Pro software is available in Manitoba through Delta Ag Services, in Portage la Prairie. In minutes, it can tie into a GPS-based RTK steering system to provide automatic blade control.
Gorman Controls Ltd., from PEI, develops products for ag storage, water treatment and renewable energy. Company vice president, Duane Gorman, attended Potato Days to demonstrate an in-storage sensor-system which monitors conditions and can control conditions, from a remote location, even with touchscreen technology. A vacationing grower wintering far from home can check in to system performance with his smartphone and make adjustments.
Ontario-based Engage Agro markets protection and pest control products in Canada on behalf of multinational partners. Saskatchewan rep, Phil Bernardin, said the company plans to introduce Desicotte Max this spring as a harvest aid for potato growers.
Ideal Pipe general Manager, Gord Unger, from Carman Manitboa, has been manufacturing drainage pipe for growers for about a decade. Growers were inspecting his new product for storage buildings. It is an in-ground culvert with a primary purpose for drainage, and a secondary purpose that aerates the potato pile overhead.
Mid-Plains Implements Ltd., also based in Portage la Prairie, has an improved machine for use as potatoes are going into storage. It is called the clodhopper, and improves separation of dirt clods from tubers, said general manager Derek Blight.
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