Rooted In Progress Summit: Building a Shared Vision for the Future of Potato Research

News Category: State News
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The "Rooted In Progress Summit" marked a pivotal gathering of key stakeholders in the potato industry, focused on cultivating a shared vision for the future of potato research. The June 2024 summit's agenda encompassed a wide range of critical topics, from ensuring that research meets the needs of the industry, ensure sustained funding for research positions to fostering collaborative relationships between academia and industry. The overarching goal was clear: to secure Michigan's position as a leader in potato research and production while addressing emerging challenges and opportunities within the sector.

Ensuring Continuity in Research Positions

A primary concern discussed at the summit was the need for stable funding for research positions, particularly when vacancies arise, or new industry needs are identified. Establishing strong relationships with department chairs is crucial, as they play a significant role in aligning departmental priorities with industry demands. Department heads, who often determine these priorities and allocate startup funds for new positions, researchers are judged based on the impact of their work rather than industry alignment. Therefore, it is imperative to bridge this gap by effectively communicating the industry's priorities and demonstrating the potential impact of these research positions.

Every faculty member's involvement in multiple sectors, including research, extension, and teaching, underscores the importance of a holistic approach to agricultural education and innovation. No faculty member is dedicated solely to research, making it essential to have a succession plan for key positions to prevent any loss of expertise or infrastructure. This proactive approach ensures the continuity of critical research efforts and the preservation of valuable resources.

Building Strategic Partnerships

The summit highlighted the necessity of exploring and solidifying partnerships to maintain key research positions. Collaborative efforts between industry, private sector partners, and academic institutions form a "three-legged stool" that supports robust and effective research. Intentional discussions are needed to determine the best fit for research initiatives, identify leadership, and include all essential partners by design. This collaborative approach, exemplified by the partnership with Midwest Water Stewards, the potato industry, and MSU’s Dr. Younsuk Dong, serves as a model for future endeavors.

Identifying Research Priorities

Participants at the summit identified several critical areas for new research, recognizing that Michigan State University, despite being a highly regarded land-grant institution, cannot address every challenge alone. The top five proposed research topics include:

  1. Diversifying the Industry: Exploring new varieties and market opportunities to reduce dependence on the chip market. For instance, yellow potatoes have surpassed red potatoes in demand, presenting an opportunity to increase yellow potato production in Michigan.
  2. Protecting and Growing the Seed Sector: Ensuring the sustainability and growth of the seed potato industry through advanced research and innovation.
  3. Sustainability: Developing practices that promote environmental stewardship and long-term viability of potato farming.
  4. Best Irrigation Practices: Enhancing water conservation and efficiency through improved irrigation techniques.
  5. Potato Physiology: Advancing the understanding of potato plant biology to improve yield, quality, and disease resistance.

These priorities do not replace ongoing research but rather complement and expand upon existing efforts to address current industry challenges.

The process of defining clear objectives and success metrics was instrumental in focusing the research agenda. Identifying the necessary researcher skill sets, areas of expertise, and infrastructure needs ensured a comprehensive understanding of current gaps. Additionally, recognizing potential hurdles to successful research implementation will allow for the development of strategies to overcome these obstacles, ensuring that no blind spots remain unaddressed.

The "Rooted In Progress Summit" underscored the importance of a collaborative and strategic approach to potato research. By securing funding, fostering partnerships, and clearly defining research priorities, Michigan's potato industry is well-positioned to navigate future challenges and seize new opportunities. The summit's outcomes will guide ongoing efforts to maintain Michigan's leadership in potato research and production, ensuring a vibrant and resilient industry for years to come.