WSU study on potato farming gives organic way a boost
By Sandi Doughton
If you want to grow a bigger potato, organic farming may be the way. The balanced mix of insects and fungi in organic fields does a superior job of keeping pests in check, leading to larger plants, according to researchers at Washington State University in Pullman. Potato plants exposed to conditions typical of pesticide-treated fields fared more poorly in the research team’s experiments.
The findings may help potato growers cut back on spraying and make more effective use of natural predators to control pests, said entomologist David Crowder, who led the study published Thursday in the journal Nature.
“The goal is to learn as much as we can about how these natural enemies are doing their jobs and what impact they’re having, so we can incorporate their effects into management practices,” he said.
Washington is second only to Idaho in potato production in the nation, and the state’s crop is valued at nearly $700 million a year. But potatoes can be very vulnerable to pests. Washington potato farmers applied more than 19 million pounds of weed- and bug-killing chemicals in 2005, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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