UI Announces Endowed Potato Research Professorship

In an effort to improve potato storage technology, the University of Idaho will benefit from a $1 million investment to create an endowed research professorship made possible by alumni Wayne and Peggy Thiessen and the Idaho Potato Commission. The Wayne Thiessen Potato Research Professorship will honor Wayne’s career in Idaho’s potato industry and the Thiessens’ longtime support of their alma mater.

The commission is matching the couple’s $500,000 donation to create the endowment.

“We realize the benefits in our lives, both personally and professionally, can be attributed to the education and experiences we have enjoyed through the U of I,” Wayne said. “We understand the importance of supporting educational and research efforts and are thankful for the opportunity to benefit the Idaho potato industry through this position.”

The Idaho Potato Commission voted in January to support the professorship, following a historic trend of investment in potato research at U of I.

The endowment establishes a new position for a faculty member in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences who will focus on potato storage physiology, creating support for Idaho potato growers, processors and shippers. The endowment will support research needs and provide funding for graduate students.

“This position will be instrumental to all aspects of Idaho’s potato industry and will allow a better understanding of post-harvest storage and handling requirements for new and evolving potato varieties,” said Nick Blanksma, chairman for the Idaho Potato Commission.

“Being able to supply our consumers with a steady year-round supply of the highest quality potatoes is crucial to the Idaho potato industry’s success, and this position will help us to attain that goal.”

Idaho growers produce more potatoes than any other state. More than 80% of the crop is stored, and 60% is processed. Storage research seeks the best practices to preserve quality and prevent sprouting for a growing number of potato varieties. U of I agricultural economists estimate the potato-based cash receipts and revenues totaled $1.1 billion in 2019.

“The generous support by the Thiessens and the Idaho Potato Commission shows the importance of the U of I potato research program to Idaho’s agricultural industry,” said Michael P. Parrella, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean. “We greatly appreciate the investment in our program, which will impact the potato industry for generations.”

A Lewiston native, Thiessen grew up on a wheat farm, then enrolled at U of I to study agriculture and soil science, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After graduating, Wayne and his wife spent two years near Chicago, then returned to Idaho where Wayne worked for University of Idaho Extension for several years. He joined Ore-Ida Foods and retired 22 years later as general manager of procurement.

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