Virginia potato growers get results from potato disease advisory

In the mid 1840s, about one million Irish died from starvation when late blight devastated their potato crop. In the past several years, late blight has affected potato farmers in Virginia, resulting in total loss in several large potato fields. However, the Virginia Potato Disease Advisory has helped potato farmers prepare for late blight and other potato diseases.

Potatoes bring an annual income of $14 million to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In 2011, Virginia Cooperative Extension initiated the Virginia Potato Disease Advisory to give growers weather-based disease forecast information. Text-based advisories alert growers to possible disease risk and recommend proactive measures to avoid loss.

The Disease Advisory uses sensors at six locations on the Eastern Shore that record weather data. The data are evaluated and result in risk assessments, which are accompanied by recommendations for fungicide applications or other IPM measures. The Advisory generates these data and recommendations on a weekly basis during the growing season from April until July.

Cooperative Extension specialists surveyed growers and held a focus group to assess the usefulness of the Advisory. Of the growers surveyed, 86 percent said they used the Advisory, and 71 percent said that it was helpful; 29 percent said it was extremely helpful.

A few growers reported economic benefits from the Advisory. One grower said that he reduced the number of fungicide applications as a result of the advisories, and another three growers said that the advisories resulted in increased profits. Two growers estimated additional profits of up to $10 per acre, and one grower reported an additional profit of $20 per acre.

Members of the focus group reported that the Advisory helped them make pest management decisions.

“We use it religiously,” said one grower. “If it says to spray, we really pay attention and we spray. And it has saved crops.”

Virginia evaluation specialists estimate that the Advisory could save each potato grower up to $6,000 a year in additional profit based on an average of 300 acres of potatoes a year. Growers who use the Advisory are grateful for the information they get from it.

“It’s one of the best things the Potato Board has ever gotten involved in,” said one grower.

Read the impact report on the Advisory at

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