Aeroponics International president Richard Stoner II, left, and vice president Kenneth Knutson describe their new approach to potato cultivation in their rural Berthoud lab. They plan to market potato seed pieces encapsulated in fertilizers and ingredients that help activate the plant's natural growth capabilities.

Reporter-Herald photos/Dan Looper By Keith Johnson Reporter-Herald Staff Writer

REPORTER-HERALD Loveland, CO

An eye for potatoes

Company works to make disease-free spuds
 
A Berthoud company has its eye on revolutionizing the potato industry. Aeroponics International recently filed a patent on its Organic Disease Control method, which it calls ODC. The product is a compound developed by Aeroponics International that organically activates the potato's natural defenses against disease, according to company president Richard J. Stoner II. 

The company developed the product in a laboratory and is now field testing more than 4,000 of its ODC treated seed potatoes. Test plots of five potato varieties are under study in Larimer and Weld counties. 

"The company's patented ODC approach literally switches on the plant's natural defense system in the presence of a pathogen and then switches off after the disease has been eliminated," Stoner said. Unlike some other efforts around the country, Aeroponics International's methods are not associated with genetic engineering, he said. 

Aeroponics International's method involves surrounding the potato seed with the ODC material. The golf-ball-sized end product is then planted in the ground. In addition to ODC, the encapsulated seed ball could also contain fertilizer and other ingredients to help it grow. If successful, Aeroponics International's methods could be applied to a wide 

array of plant life, said Kenneth W. Knutson, one of the inventors and a vice president of the company. Knutson formerly worked 29 years at Colorado State University's Department of Horticulture as an associate professor/pathologist and potato specialist. 

Colorado State University Professor Cecil Stushnoff, who is familiar with the company's efforts, said the method is revolutionary. He said it takes advantage of the concept of stimulating a plant's natural defenses and has the potential to change the way plants are grown.

During the past 10 years, the potato industry has made broad strides toward producing disease free plants, and Aeroponics International's work is an appealing extension of that, Stushnoff said. 

The company's business plan calls for licensing the encapsulation and ODC method to producers of other crops, but retaining exclusive control over the method for Providing the field tests go well, the company plans to introduce its initial product, called EcoSeeds, 

this fall, Stoner said. The company is in the process of raising money to finance expansion of its production and marketing, he added. 

Because the method can be applied anywhere potatoes are grown, Aeroponics International's product could have worldwide implications, Knutson Because the method can be applied anywhere potatoes are grown, Aeroponics International's product could have worldwide implications, Knutson said. The market overseas has much potential because per capita potato consumption in other parts of the world is almost double that of the United States, he said. 

The company's efforts also focus on applying high-tech methods to the potato seed stalk industry. Knutson said the method Aeroponics International uses should reduce the cost of first generation seed stalk. Under Aeroponics International's method. a few plantlets can multiply into thousands in a short time by growing, dividing and replanting, he said. In a few months, a few plantlets can grow to 50,000, allowing producers to obtain a large disease-free stock of seeds to grow. 

The company operates out of Stoner's southeast Berthoud home. However, Aeroponics International hopes to open its own manufacturing facility within 60 days, Stoner said. The company was founded in 1992. 

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