Monday, July 28, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: Giving you more time to eat your potatoes

By
April 30, 2011 |

E. Kirsten Peters mug

Peters

One of my mother’s friends was raised decades ago on a few acres at the end of gravel road in Idaho. As she puts it, her family’s basic challenge was eating what it produced before other critters did. In other words, it was useful to consume the eggs in the henhouse before the foxes got to them.

Those images sometimes come to my mind when I look at a bag of potatoes in the grocery store. Potatoes are relatively cheap and nutritious food, a good source of the basic food energy that carbs give us, as well as a fine source of Vitamin C, potassium and iron. They are also so easy to cook even I can manage the task.

But when I was young a lot of potatoes were lost to sprouting. As soon as a spud starts growing sprouts, its days are numbered. The sprouting hastens deterioration and the overall quality of the potato starts to drop off.

Farmers used to lose some of their crop to sprouting before they could sell their harvest, and consumers lost sacks of spuds stored in home cupboards to the same problem.

It wasn’t that foxes invaded our kitchens to eat our potatoes. It was that the spuds themselves “ate” the starch stored in their pudgy brown bodies to fuel their growth.

In the 20th century farmers started to treat their potatoes with chemicals to delay the sprouting process. The chemicals helped, but they were artificial compounds, not natural to the food chain.

It’s at this point that new research enters the picture. At agricultural universities across the nation, scientists are always at work to improve the lot of farmers and consumers alike. The goal is to get more food of higher quality out of the land, to do so as sustainably as possible, and to help us consumers as we make a wide variety of choices about how we want to eat.

When Professor Richard Knowles of Washington State University saw that potatoes treated in an experiment with a naturally occurring compound didn’t sprout – even when they were planted in soil – he knew he had discovered something akin to a magic wand for the sprouting problem. The compound in question is one that’s related to what wafts into the air when you mow your lawn. It gives you that “fresh cut grass” smell. In other words, the compound is fully natural, one that plants themselves produce.

The new class of potato-sprout inhibitors is being developed for commercial application by the American Vanguard Corporation as SmartBlockTM. It’s because of advances like these that the big bag of spuds you carry home today from the grocery store will likely remain pretty cheap in the years to come. And as consumers we’ll be able to directly see the good effects of Knowles’ research, because potatoes will more likely make it from the store all the way to your plate rather than sprouting and growing furiously in the cupboard.

Most of the ag scientists I know are not the kind of people to loudly sing their own praises. And a lot of Americans today don’t understand all the work that goes into growing high-quality food and getting it successfully to the grocery store. Those two factors combine to make too many of us unaware of all the good work done in agricultural research.

Lots of agricultural scientists are able to do their research work because of our tax dollars. At the federal level, agricultural research is supported by part of the Department of Agriculture called the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The budget for NIFA was cut in the recent deal ironed out between Republicans and Democrats in D.C. Maybe that was reasonable given the economic situation, but because I’m lucky enough to see ag scientists at work daily around me in my job, I understand just how much bang we get for each buck put into their research.

If we choose to complain about the costs of agricultural research, let’s at least not do it with our mouths full.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Follow her on the web at rockdoc.wsu.edu and on Twitter @RockDocWSU. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Comments

comments

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

 
County’s chief lawyer: No Brown Act violation

By Chris Daley | From Page: A1

General Plan workshop today

By Chris Daley | From Page: A1

 
Two growth control initiatives get green light

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1

Sand Fire burns more than 4,000 acres

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Fatal accident in Camino

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Agricultural Crop and Livestock Report released

By Ross Branch | From Page: A3

 
35 people displaced in Tahoe hotel fire

By Tahoe Tribune | From Page: A3 | Gallery

.

Opinion

The balancing act: Toxic waste spreads

By Larry Weitzman | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
Bee-ing silly

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
.

Letters

Letter to Speaker of the House

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
GDPUD misinformation

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

At the crossroads

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Want more water?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Refugee crisis

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
.

Sports

Camp experience is ‘priceless’

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Speedway races cancelled

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

El Dorado doubles up on Pro Players

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Under the Scoreboard: July 26, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Schedule: July 28 – Aug. 2, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Roundup: July 26, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Local spiker shines

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

 
Sports Scene: July 26, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

.

Prospecting

A beautiful day at Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm

By Cathy Barsotti | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Foothill gourmet: Things get corny

By Donna Brown | From Page: B2

Bipolar Insights: From point A to point B

By Marcia Rose | From Page: B2

 
Cool time at Cowboys and Cornbread

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

As we were: Recreation district grows

By Ken Deibert | From Page: B4

 
Cantare names new director

By Cantare Chorale | From Page: B10

 
After 5 Club to meet

By Senior Day | From Page: B10

.

Essentials

Divorces

By Charlotte Sanchez-Kosa | From Page: A2Comments are off for this post

 
DUI Log: June 25-July 9

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

Crime Log: July 14-16

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

.

Real Estate

.

Comics

Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A8

American Profile Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Horoscope, Monday, July 28, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A8