Farmers converge on Hermiston

Carmen Robbins, the office manager of Pendleton Grain Growers' Agronomy division in Hermiston, chats with growers and friends Wednesday at the Hermiston Farm Fair and Trade Show.<br><i>Staff photo by Erin Mills</i>

Like teenagers watching "New Moon," a crowd of farmers sat riveted as Phil Hamm explained the latest research on Potato Virus Y at the Hermiston Conference Center Wednesday. Potato Virus Y, or PVY, was the subject of a two-year study at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

In a series of slides, Hamm, an extension plant pathologist, showed what happened when several varieties of potato were inoculated with various strains of PVY. The results, in a nutshell, showed PVY is bad news for potato farmers, even those who grow supposedly PVY-resistant varieties.

PVY produces different symptoms in the various varieties of potatoes, although in certain conditions, it can cause baffling dissimilar symptoms within the same variety, he said. The rate of infection also differs among the type of PVY and the variety.

"It's not as simple as we might have hoped," Hamm said.

Hamm was one of several speakers to address the problems of potatoes during the full-day Potato Production Seminar at the Hermiston Farm Fair and Trade Show.

Kevin Merrill, who manages potato fields for Agri Northwest in Kennewick, said PVY is not a significant problem for him, but "once you have it, you have it."

When it gets in your potatoes, he said, the only thing to do is to control the insects that spread it around. PVY generally starts with infected seed.

"It's tough to find disease-free seed," he said.

But the main reason Merrill came to the trade show, he said, was for a discussion of Black Dot, a fungus that doesn't show symptoms in the plant until it's too late.

Merrill said university-funded research on crops is extremely valuable to his business. He often consults local research centers, he said, and Agri Northwest was one of the sponsors of the new screen houses at HAREC, where the PVY study took place.

Tom Benitez and Todd McCoy, of the Grande Ronde Seed Farm in La Grande, said they attended several presentations in the Potato Production Seminar.

"You learn something from all of them," Benitez said.

Benitez and McCoy said they also enjoy wandering through the many sellers at the trade show.

"We get our samples, our pens and key chains - our stocking stuffers," McCoy said.

The Hermiston Conference Center was packed with businesses this year. Chamber of Commerce Director Debbie Pedro confirmed there were more vendors, perhaps because new chamber members decided to have a booth, and perhaps because word of the Farm Fair is getting out.

"It's pretty exciting," she said. "We have people coming from other areas ... I think Hermiston is growing a bit and that's probably helped."

Pedro said farmer attendance this year has also been high.

"It seems like we hardly had an empty seat at all in the morning session," she said.

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