Smoke and spuds
The University of Idaho and Boise State University are conducting a two-year study that probes how wildfire smoke impacts potato crops. Farmers have reported smaller yields and worse quality during active wildfire seasons that produce a lot of smoke.
University of Idaho Professor of Plant Sciences Mike Thornton says they are testing three varieties.
“If some of these potatoes show that they are less prone to responding to smoky conditions, then those would be good options for the industry when we have summers where its predicted to be a lot of fuel in the forest or in the range and dry conditions, the things that tend to result in intense wildfires and smoke exposure.”
While other commodities have conducted research focused on smoke exposure, Thornton noted this is the first time that anyone has focused on potatoes on this scale. He adds the desire for the study came from industry, specifically McCain foods, which had noticed the drop in potato quality in certain smoky years.
“But, then we went forward to the Idaho state Department of Agriculture, they have a program called the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, which is actually federal money that comes in to the Department of Ag. And they put them out for project that are going to help the industry better be competitive going forward. So, we were able to get two years worth of funding.”
Thornton noted 2022 is the first year of their research, so they’re just now starting to see results.