Thursday, September 28, 2017

Attack of the Killer Potato Vines

Those of you who know me understand that I do a fair amount of traveling during the growing season. Naturally, when you travel anything can happen.

Long story short, I wound up taking a fall in a potato field located about 20 miles from Burley, Idaho, a couple weeks ago. Nothing broken, but I have a really bad sprain of my right knee. So I am 700 miles from home and can’t walk out of the field without a great deal of help. Whereas I couldn’t walk, I also couldn’t drive my rental vehicle, get on an airplane, or get on the shuttle from the airport to go home. This created a 1400 mile round trip for my wife to come get me. She is not fond of long-distance driving, so I’m glad she was able to do this. It’s amazing how much better I felt mentally when she walked into my hotel room.

It would be easy to dwell on the hardships of the incident but I would rather concentrate on the positive things that came from this fall. The fertilizer dealership that asked me to see this field went out of their way to help me. They drove me to the hospital and checked on me several times when I was in my hotel room. They even contacted me on my way home to make sure I was all right. I could tell their concern was real.

The hospital staff was extremely caring in the way they allowed me to take the time to cancel my car rental by waiting patiently for me to finish my business before doing the x-rays. With more compassion than I have seen at other hospitals, they bent over backwards for my comfort.

The hotel staff was absolutely awesome! Not only did they select a room for me that was close to the main desk, they also brought my dinner to me. My knee was about three times its normal size and when I called the front desk for some ice they brought it to me gladly. They went so far as to check on me periodically just to see if I wanted anything. It is important to note that this was not the hotel I have stayed in every month for several years. That hotel was booked for my original night’s visit, so I was staying in a completely new place.

Some people would look at all of this and say they were just doing their job. I saw it very differently. What I saw was people who didn’t know me but still wanted to make me comfortable. They didn’t care if my politics was left, right, blue, or red. They just wanted to help a person in distress.

In this world of divisions and taking sides, it is good to see that helping someone comes first and politics, race, or religion comes much later. There are a lot of good people out there and I think if we all open our eyes a bit wider we can see them. Once we see them, let’s be one of them.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Taking the Bite Out of High Salt Soils

The soils of the Skagit Valley are noted for being very fertile. After 27 years of pulling soil samples in the valley, I would agree with this statement. However, along with the good, you will always have some bad. One of the most prevalent challenges in our valley is high salt. This can happen from fields being very close to a salt water bay, poorly drained soils with high levels of nitrate nitrogen, or fields close to dairies where liquid manure has been applied over the years. There is no fault in these soil conditions, sometimes it just works out that way. 

That being said, it is possible to help a crop get through the stress of trying to grow under high salt conditions. The picture above is of two corn plants grown in separate fields. The plant on the left is from the untreated field and the plant on the right is from the treated field. The two fields are separated by a ditch and have always been farmed the same.

Without going into a tremendous amount of over explanation, I can say the treated planting had a pre plant incorporated combination of a high-carbon liquid product with a soil surfactant. The treatment in furrow at planting was a biological inoculant and a salicylic acid product to enhance root structure and increase root length. After 11 days from planting, it looks like the program is working so far. We will do another picture and post in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Set Up for Success

While going through the history of our blog we discovered that we had more visits to the blog post concerning skin set on potatoes than any other. We decided it’s time to revisit that blog but also post a new one on what it takes to set up a potato crop for good skin set.

The process of skin set, the thickening of the outer-most cells on the potato, is a natural occurrence when the potato plant has completed the movement of sugars from the leaves to the tubers. It is part of the maturing process that will keep the tuber from degrading during storage. This all seems like an easy task but in the Skagit Valley skin set can take several weeks after the plants have died.

A few things can be done early in the plant development to help the maturing process:

1.     Do not apply nitrate forms of nitrogen early in the plant’s development. This has a negative effect on the plant by pushing top growth and reducing root development.

2.     Get as much calcium, boron, silica, and magnesium into the plant as possible. Start early and go long! These elements will enhance cell wall strength, reduce stress, and increase photosynthesis all of which are critical to keep plant top growth in check.

3.     If at all possible, use a water surfactant pre-plant and during the growing season to move both irrigation and rain more efficiently. We have been using a product called Integrate 80 with a great deal of success. It will move water both vertically and horizontally creating a better water distribution path.

These are a few ideas that you can try to help your potatoes achieve a stress-free crop. If you follow through with these three ideas and use the finishing program, also posted, I’m confident you will be satisfied with the end results.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Gathering of Potato Growers

We attended the Washington-Oregon Potato conference in Kennewick, WA, on January 24th and 25th to learn from some of the best growers and researchers in the industry.

Did you know that the combined acreage of potatoes for Washington and Oregon amounts to 20% of the nation’s total? Washington alone grows about 170,000 acres per year with Oregon in at 40,000 acres. The vast majority of the crop is grown on the east side of the Cascade mountain range so, naturally the majority of the research has east side growing conditions in mind. But that still doesn’t mean that we “westsiders” didn’t glean some valuable information from the conference.

Topics such as using hormones to break seed piece dormancy and balance the amount of stems per hill was very interesting. We (the west side) have been doing this for some time but they (the east side) are on the right track. Also the appropriate amount of nutrients to use was very important. Farmers are some of the best stewards of the land on the planet so they are always concerned about using the right amount of the right nutrients for their crop.

Overall, it was very informative and we look forward to sharing that information with the growers of Skagit County.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

International Collaboration

On the 16th through the 18th of January, we attended the 24th Annual Stoller International Associates Conference in Houston, Texas. Ag Tech Services has been to about 10 of these conferences over the past 15 years and it seems we learn something new every year. Even though this is a very international meeting, with 26 out of 46 presentations from outside the U.S., we are still able to pick up new ideas on plant physiology and plant hormone activity. These ideas are very applicable to our cropping systems in the U.S.

Naturally the research that is done has product sales in mind. What we find refreshing is when an idea or crop growth intent doesn’t work the way it was expected. It’s great to show success but it is also important to show failure if you are in search of knowledge, not just sales.

We at ATS will share what we learned this year with the growers of Skagit Valley and beyond. We can use this as part of a full program, or as a field trial. After all, it’s all about learning and applying.