The County Ag Report: Australian Potato Farming

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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - Dr. Steve Johnson, a full professor with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, spends most of his time at the Aroostook Research Farm in Presque Isle. That won't be the case starting this December when Dr. Johnson goes on sabbatical.

(Johnson) I have applied for and been granted an opportunity to go learn about potato production and help some growers in another country, another area. I've chosen Australia because I can be gone during our winter and it's there growing season, and I don't miss one of our growing seasons.

Dr. Johnson has taken sabbatical to Australia before, visiting the country in 1995. For this particular trip, he will be gone for three months, lasting through February.

(Johnson) I'm developing some accessible education modules that growers and particularly seed growers and others can access on potato diseases, seed production, seed handling.

While potatoes are still potatoes, even on the other side of the world, Dr. Johnson says the crops there are almost 100 percent irrigated.

(Johnson) It's a smaller industry than the U.S. and the potato growers very diverse. They have a number of crops, which include livestock, sheep, cattle, as well as potatoes or other vegetables.

Though Dr. Johnson will be in Australia to help their production, he will also experiment with new technology that can be applied both there and in the County.

(Johnson) My late blight prediction model, as an example, I wrote it here, took it there in '95, debugged it, tried it, brought it back, and had it up and running before the growing season.

Dr. Johnson says not only do Australian potato farmers suffer from the same diseases that occur in the County, but their farmers are aging.

(Johnson) They're constantly looking for young growers, they're looking for ways to recruit, and maintain them.