|Improving the health and productivity of organic potato crops through participatory research |
R. K. GENGER (1), D. I. Rouse (1), R. Groves (1), A. O. Charkowski (1). (1) University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, U.S.A.
Seed potatoes can carry pathogens that significantly affect crop productivity. Management of these pathogens includes a certification process which rejects seed lots above a strict pathogen incidence threshold. Organic farmers, who are required to plant organically produced seed where available, face challenges in obtaining certified seed potatoes for desired varieties. We conducted researcher-managed trials on organic farms which demonstrated the feasibility of organic production of seed potatoes. Through this process we realized the importance of farmer partnerships in setting research directions and improving adoption of research-based recommendations. Through consultations with growers, we found that growers placed a high priority on selection of varieties suited to organic management. We initiated on-farm variety selection trials, and transitioned from researcher management to farmer management of trials. As part of this transition, we adopted a “mother-baby” trial design in which replicated variety trials were planted in researcher-managed trials, and single replicates of variety subsets were planted in farmer-managed trials at organic farms throughout the Upper Midwest. Through this research we have identified characteristics of potato varieties that thrive under organic management, breeding goals for organic potato production, and constraints due to farm environment. Coming full circle, we are initiating farmer-led trials of organic seed potato production.