MONTE VISTA—“We don’t appreciate our food like we should,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, as he led the annual potato fest tour. People from Denver, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and even a few locals came to learn more about the crop the Valley is famous for.
Participants in the tour got to visit the Colorado State University Research Center. At the center they conduct several research studies on potatoes, including breeding and selection, pathology, crop management and field physiology, postharvest physiology and seed certification. As part of the research they grow and try to develop different kinds of potato varieties, trying to make the best looking potato they can for the market.
They are also trying to find crops that will do well in the Valley, crops that will need less water, less fertilizer and that will produce a high yield. Several members of the research team answered questions and told them a little about the science that goes into getting a potato on your plate. Dr. Samuel Essah is the head of their potato management and physiology program. “When the baby potatoes are produced I try to manage them and make them into good citizens,” Essah joked as he explained how they study the potatoes throughout their tuber lives. If the “baby” potatoes get sick they have to try to figure out why.
During their time at the research center participants in the tour were allowed to get their hands dirty and dig up some potatoes for themselves. Before they could enter the field they had to dip their feet into shallow pans filled with sterilizing fluid. They do this to protect the field’s soil from contamination.
The next stop on the tour was Martinez Farms, where they were able to visit a large greenhouse. The greenhouse, which is used to start the seed potatoes, had various varieties sprouting inside. At Martinez Farms, they grow and plant their own seed potatoes and also sell seed to other farms in the Valley. After a visit to the greenhouse, they were able to see some of the heavy machinery that is used to plant and harvest the potatoes. The farm equipment used is very expensive and will typically last 15 to 20 years before needing replaced.
Participants were able to see a cellar and were told how the potatoes are sorted before they are stored. They also got to see piece of equipment called a piler which is used to stack the potatoes in the cellar. After being stored the spuds go on to the different markets. They are loaded onto semi-trucks and taken to be packaged, before they head off to restaurants, schools, Walmart and other stores.
It’s a huge process getting those spuds that start as seed potatoes to local grocery stores’ shelves. “Farmers have a huge amount of risk,” said Ehrlich towards the end of their tour. “I hope you got an appreciation for the dedication farmers have to provide you with the best food possible.”