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Best of NAMA 2020

Potato grower stewardship is no half-baked idea. In fact, spud supporters have found that promoting environmental stewardship not only draws attention to sound production practices, but it also attracts the support of the crop protection industry, government agencies and even consumers.

While any crop requires some degree of pest control, potatoes are especially intensive to manage to maintain yield potential and consistent quality. Just consider the devastation of the Irish potato famine - spurred by a disease that is present in the United States - to realize how important disease control tools are to the industry.

"Potato growers face several disease problems that can wipe out a crop, and intensive efforts are required to keep pests and viruses at bay. Growers have shared with us that in order for them to succeed, they need to be able to maintain the technology and various tools it takes to grow potatoes," confirms Doug Meadows, a Colorado-based product manager with DuPont Agricultural Products. DuPont partners with the National Potato Council (NPC) each year to recognize environmental stewards. "In addition, the potato market has been relatively flat, and this program helps growers put a positive image on potatoes and show the public that they are a safe and wholesome food."

NPC first added an environmental twist to its programming in 1988 when it partnered informally with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to find ways to help potato growers protect the environment. Because of all the inputs required, the organization wanted to build a strong, open relationship with regulators.

The relationship was formalized in the mid-1990s as an EPA Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Partnership (PESP), a connection that has focused on pesticide risk reduction in potato production. NPC, with DuPontís financial assistance, chooses from a handful of nominated growers those Environmental Stewardship Award Winners who reduce pesticide risk without compromising yield or quality.

"This program allows us to showcase growers from around the country who use different practices to protect the environment," says Dave Lavway, NPC government relations director, Greenwood Village, Colo. "We deal with so many issues like water quality and the Food Quality Protection Act, that this is a way to show EPA, too, that potato growers make wise use of chemicals."

Nominations for the award are generated at the state level and critiqued on the national level in the areas of pesticide risk reduction strategy, integrated pest management (IPM) strategies, biological control/transgenic methods, water, soil and habitat conservation methods, and other pesticide risk reduction strategies.

For example, Jerry Larson, Climax, Minn., was recognized earlier this year for practices that include routinely band spraying his crop to reduce the amount of crop protection products used. Larson also utilizes bulk, returnable containers whenever possible, uses low rates of chemicals and rotates chemistries to avoid resistance. His five-year crop rotation allows the land to rebuild important nutrients and components. Field shelterbelts provide renewed habitat for Minnesota wildlife.

Winner Greg Nickell, Nickell Farms, Blackfoot, Idaho, uses GPS technology, including intense soil mapping with bare soil aerial photographs, infrared images, topography and other tools to make site-specific applications of chemicals and fertilizers. As a result, he has reduced rate applications of some chemicals by 60 percent to 90 percent and has cut his fertilizer use by 10 percent to 20 percent.

"Most growers want to be recognized that they are using crop protection products in a sound way," says Allen Olberding, NPC president and former environmental affairs vice president, Pasco, Wash. "This is an educational program so growers can see what other growers are doing. It also allows us to demonstrate good pesticide management to the EPA and showcase our industry to the public."

Meadows sees the Environmental Stewardship Award Program as a plus for DuPont as well. "From our perspective, the industry sees DuPont is committed to potato production. We are not just out to sell products," he says. "We are putting something back in the industry in terms of value, and, in return, we get insight from the industry that helps us improve our products." AM

Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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