BENJAMIN MICHAELIS | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE
After receiving a $3 million endowment from members of the potato industry, WSU created a new endowed chair position to lead research on potato production and soil health.
The individual chosen as the distinguished endowed chair in soil health for potato cropping systems will investigate how potato farm management practices affect the health of soil, said Richard Koenig, chair of Crop and Soil Sciences.
The person appointed will also modify and improve farming practices to promote healthier soil, he said.
“It’s really focused on helping potato farmers manage their fields and soil to be more sustainable and produce healthier potatoes,” he said.
The new chair will also research how farmers can protect potatoes from soil pathogens, said Scot Hulbert, associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences Office of Research.
The research will focus on the relationship between managing soil and soil health. It will also explain how the relationship between soil and soil health affects sustainability, Koenig said.
The research team will test potato growing methods by disturbing the soil less to see if it reduces the process’ environmental footprint, he said.
The research will be funded by the $3 million endowment, he said.
The new chair will collaborate with soil health scientists in western and eastern Washington, Koenig said.
“Having more collaborators doing research in that area tends to generate more ideas and more opportunities to specialize and pursue various aspects of soil health,” he said.
The endowment will also serve to create a new applied research program involving researchers from the University of Idaho, Oregon State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The research will develop tools that manage and monitor soil health, Koenig said.
A committee of WSU faculty members and potato industry representatives will start looking for potential hires at the end of the year, Hulbert said. They will finalize their selection around summer.
The committee is looking for a scientist with an established background in soil science and a good understanding of potato production, Koenig said. They have a recruiting list of about 25 scientists from national and international universities, as well as research institutions.
“This will be advertised openly,” he said. “We’ll also target recruiting by inviting applications from people who we know to be working in this industry already.”