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Research Lacking on Alternative Pest Management Practices at Northwest Land Grant Universities
(November 21, 2002)

Only a few potato researchers at two prominent land grant universities in the Northwest are studying alternatives to pesticides, according to a new report released today. The report, Digging for Alternatives: An Analysis of Potato Pest Management Research at Two Northwest Land Grant Universities, published by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), indicates a strong opportunity for increasing research into alternatives to pesticides.

"Are land grant universities researching adequate solutions for alternative methods of pest control in potatoes?" asks report author Richarda Ruffle. "Potato farmers can't adopt alternatives to pesticides when so little research is being done," she adds.

Digging for Alternatives summarizes interviews with 18 potato pest management researchers at the University of Idaho and Washington State University. Land grant universities are the largest source of publicly funded agriculture in the country, and this report examines whether these two schools are providing adequate alternative potato pest management solutions.

"Potato farming in the Northwest is highly productive, but also extremely pesticide-intensive," states NCAP sustainable agriculture program coordinator Jennifer Miller. "Potatoes use more pesticides than any other crop in the Northwest, using five times the poundage of pesticides per acre compared to apples," she added.

The report indicates that most researchers approach pest problems primarily with the use of chemicals. Although there is currently limited research on alternative potato pest management practices at these universities, researchers are interested in doing more.

Researchers noted that several barriers keep them from pursuing research on alternatives to pesticides. One barrier is the difficulty in obtaining funding for this research.

Digging for Alternatives looks closely at a major source of funding for most researchers, the state potato commissions. An analysis of projects funded by the Idaho and Washington state potato commissions over the past six years showed that the commissions primarily fund research that takes a pesticide approach (71% of projects), with little emphasis on alternatives. Only 7% of the projects study alternative pest management practices.

"Research on alternatives will provide more options for potato farmers in the long run," says Miller. "The farmers and the researchers are interested, and human health and the environment would both benefit. Land grant universities and potato commissions need to make research on alternative pest controls a funding priority."

A copy of Digging for Alternatives: An Analysis of Potato Pest Management Research at Two Northwest Land Grant Universities is available at: www.pesticide.org/DiggingForAlternatives.pdf.