At age 16, he started a job on a research farm. On evenings and weekends he worked on his family's farm. At the end of the day, the hard work always felt worthwhile. Plus he knew he could make a career of it.
"I always knew with agriculture there would be jobs because people need to eat," said Andy Robinson, Extension potato agronomist.
Andy continues his work in agriculture and research today, servicing potato growers in a joint U of M and NDSU appointment. In 2011 US potato production, North Dakota rated number six in the country, followed by Minnesota at number 7. Our potato growing region is unique in that a variety of potatoes are grown. The Red River Valley is famous for the red potato.
"We produce the most in the nation here in the Red River Valley," said Andy.
Herbicide interaction is one of the areas where Andy focuses research. Potatoes are sensitive to herbicides such as glyphosate, and low levels can reach potatoes from drift, inversion, or tank contamination. The herbicide travels through the plant to the tubers where it stays until the seed is planted in the spring.
Candelabra formation of shoots due to herbicide interaction.
That's when the symptoms may appear, often in an erratic and slow emergence pattern. Other symptoms include bending, twisting and yellowing of leaves; multiple shoots from an eye; candelabra formation of shoots, prolific roots or reduced rooting, and/or enlarged shoots. These symptoms don't appear at the time of plant and glyphosate interaction--the problem comes with emergence the following year.
"Winter tests" help determine whether the seed is contaminated. While North Dakota and Minnesota are frozen solid, seed samples are sent to sunny Hawaii or Florida and planted. They are observed for symptoms. And yes, Andy was able to escape to Florida to walk the fields!
Andy at a field day in Becker, MN.
Andy's Extension work helps educate producers on the key steps they can take to address issues with herbicide interactions. One critical step is to establish good communication--with neighbors and the seed supplier. Neighbors need to be aware of sensitive crops in the area before spraying herbicide. Of course, training pesticide applicators is related. Interviewing seed suppliers to learn whether they're implementing best practices will help protect the next crop.
Another recommendation is to plant wheat or barley borders around the potato field, which helps keep the potato plot farther away from potential drift. In the long run, this is a worthwhile step.
"As an Extension specialist, part of my job is to get that information out," Andy said.
What's next for this field? The challenge is how to improve output while reducing inputs. Potatoes use a good deal of water and nitrogen. Andy is looking at quantifying the agronomic value of new potato varieties that require less water and nitrogen. He is also excited about opportunities to use technology to reduce other inputs.
Looks like he'll continue to spend time in the field--working on research and education.