POCATELLO — Area potato farmers will finally get to see the latest innovations in equipment on display at Holt Arena at the upcoming Eastern Idaho Ag Expo, following the cancellation of last year’s event due to COVID-19.
The Ag Expo, in its 43rd year, is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Tuesday and Wednesday and for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday. It will be hosted in conjunction with the 54th Annual Idaho Potato Conference, at Idaho State University’s Pond Student Union Building from 8 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Jan. 19 and from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Jan. 20.
David Beale, owner of Spectra Productions in Eagle, which is organizing the Ag Expo and a trade show at the Idaho Potato Conference, said he’s booked about 170 vendors for the two locations combined — roughly the same as in pre-COVID years. Admission to the trade show and Ag Expo is free; on-site registration is $50 per person to attend potato-centric presentations at the conference.
“We’re just excited to be back after being shut down for a year. Our vendors are excited to be back and talk to the growers in person,” Beale said. “The manufacturers are always innovating. … The exciting part is we have missed a whole year so we’re talking about two years (of innovations).”
The Idaho Potato Conference, which includes presentations on a host of subjects of interest to potato farmers by top agricultural researchers, was hosted virtually in 2021, enabling participants to still obtain credits toward their pesticide applicator’s license.
Aside from the professional benefits, those in the potato industry look forward to socializing with friends at the two events.
“I think the biggest thing this year is being in person,” said American Falls potato farmer Kamren Koompin, who plans to attend a few seminars, though he doesn’t necessarily need many more credits. “Locally, people always enjoy two and a half days of walking through the Expo. It’s definitely a social thing.”
With commodity prices up, Koompin expects there may be some more buying at the Ag Expo. He’s not in the market for equipment at the moment, but he’s eager to do some browsing.
University of Idaho researchers Mike Thornton and Nora Olsen have been tasked with organizing the Idaho Potato Conference sessions.
Thornton believes the first session on Wednesday morning will be of especial interest to growers, offering them insights into how smoky and hot weather conditions last summer likely contributed to their reduced potato quality and yields.
Thornton explained the first 90-degree day of 2021 came six weeks earlier than during the prior year, at a critical time when potato plants were setting their tubers.
“The timing of the heat in 2021 was different than anything I’ve seen in the past,” Thornton said.
Thornton said another session that will likely be popular — scheduled at the request of several in the industry — will explore alternatives to fumigation, which has become an increasingly important topic as large buyers prioritize sustainability. Growers concerned about fumigating for early die, for example, may look to planting a more resistant variety, such as Clearwater Russet.
Thornton has also been participating in a 10-state project analyzing ways to improve soil health, which will be the focus of another session.
National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles and Jamey Higham, the new president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, will share their thoughts on current issues in the potato industry.
Additional sessions will focus on a host of other topics, including the water supply outlook, irrigation efficiency, potato bruises, weed management, fungal pathogens, pesticide resistance, potato viruses, fertilizer and input cost increases and considerations when tank mixing pesticides.