Oregon State University tackles organic potato spoilage challenge with $2M federal grant

By Brian Bull (KLCC)
Dec. 3, 2023 8:06 p.m.

Last year, organic food sales in the U.S. exceeded $60 billion

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2013 file photo, a farmer packs potatoes at his farm in Litiz, Pa. Oregon State University has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study how to keep organic potatoes from spoilage.

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2013 file photo, a farmer packs potatoes at his farm in Litiz, Pa. Oregon State University has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study how to keep organic potatoes from spoilage.

Matt Rourke / AP

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Potatoes fuel a $2.2 billion industry in the Pacific Northwest. So the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $2-million award to Oregon State University researchers to keep stored spuds from spoiling shouldn’t be a big surprise.

Organic potatoes are the focus.

Last year, organic food sales in the U.S. exceeded $60 billion.

Historically, chemical treatments have been used to prevent sprouts, but both the European Union and the organic market frown on those.

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Related: A glut of french fries potatoes means a big spud dump across Northwest

Valtcho Jeliazkov told KLCC that herein lies the challenge. He’s with OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, and is on the team studying the issue.

While there are about a dozen natural products on the market, “compared to the synthetic chemicals for storage (and) for sprout control, these products are first not that effective, and secondly, they’re more expensive,” said Jeliazkov.

Related: Resolution to recognize potato as official Oregon vegetable packs a peel

He added that as the organic market continues to grow, the financial implications of spoilage and reduced storage life become even more significant.

Sprouting diminishes marketable qualities such as appearance, taste and texture, and decreased storage life translates to financial setbacks.

OSU’s research team is looking at 200 different plant oils for their anti-sprouting properties. The University of Tennessee will help test tuber reactions to any treatments OSU devises.

Related: Pacific Northwest consortium aims to improve potato production with eco-friendly methods

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