Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published June 18, 2012, 09:37 AM

Coming back to spuds

FARGO, N.D. — Andy Robinson doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. But he promises to do his best to get them.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Andy Robinson doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. But he promises to do his best to get them.

“I still have a lot to learn. But this is exactly what I want to be doing,” he says.

Robinson is the new potato extension specialist in North Dakota and Minnesota. He will work with potato growers and conduct research on potato production in the two states.

Robinson has a background, albeit not a recent one, in potatoes.

A native of Parma, Idaho, a small town about an hour west of Boise, the capital, Robinson grew up on a diversified farm that didn’t raise potatoes. But he says he had plenty of experience with spuds, a crop closely associated with Idaho.

The University of Idaho has a research experiment center in Parma, which is “where I started working on potatoes in the summer. I worked with an entomologist, and we did a lot of potato work. I worked for a pathologist one summer, too, and the work there was split between potatoes and onions.

“There’s where I got thinking that I like research that helps farmers and finds ways to increase productivity,” he says.

Robinson went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Brigham State University and then a master’s degree in agronomy and doctorate in weed science from Purdue University. His doctorate focused on evaluating 2,4-D-sensitive soybeans and the effects of drift onto sensitive soybeans.

“So I have a lot to learn and relearn about potatoes. But at least they’re not foreign to me,” he says. “Soybeans were foreign to me when I went to get my master’s degree. I’d never seen a soybean until the trip out” to Purdue.

Robinson, 31, finished his doctorate this spring and began his position in Fargo, on the NDSU campus, May 1.

He says he’s working with many experienced colleagues in both NDSU and University of Minnesota Extension Services, which makes his job easier.

Areas of concern

One of the things that concerns Robinson and others involved in the area potato industry is the potential return of late blight this summer.

The crop disease struck potatoes in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota last summer, the third straight year in which late blight hit the region.

The highly contagious fungus, which caused the disastrous Irish potato famine in the 1840s, can hurt both yields and quality.

“We’re watching it very closely. So far, so good,” he says.

The region’s relatively dry growing season has helped dampen the threat from the disease, he says.

Robinson also is concerned about glyphosate, a popular herbicide often sold under the brand name Roundup. Glyphosate isn’t used on potatoes — doing so would kill the plants — but it can drift on to potato fields when applied to other crops in nearby fields.

A lot of variety

The East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, which represents growers in both Minnesota and North Dakota, announced Robinson’s appointment in its March 20 newsletter.

The association noted that that position had been vacant since January 2011.

“I am very excited we have finally filled this position,” association president Chuck Gunnerson says in the newsletter.

The Red River Valley of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of red potatoes and the only region that produces in volume for the chip, fresh, seed and process markets.

“There will be a lot of variety, which I like. This job will never be boring,” Robinson says.

Tags: