GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (May 27, 2014)– A red flag raised in Michigan’s multi-million dollar potato industry after a video resurfaces on You Tube with a school-aged girl saying chemicals are put on potatoes to stunt their growth.
The product is called Sprout Nip, it’s been used on potatoes for nearly 50 years.
“Bud nip is a chemical that they put on vegetables,” said the girl on a video that eventually had the Michigan potato industry up in arms.
The little girl claims that the chemical Sprout Nip was to blame for a sweet potato that wouldn’t grow in water.
She used an organic potato, which did grow, to prove her point.
Ultimately, she raised health concerns about whether or not the chemical causes cancer.
Meanwhile, children at Woodside Elementary School in Holland wanted to do an experiment with potatoes as well.
They put a few varieties in jars by the window and waited.
In the two classrooms, twins Heath and Blake, who brought in a potato that they had grown in their garden.
“We’re comparing many different brands to see how they will grow,” said Mr. Steve Eidson, 4th grade teacher at Woodside Elementary.
Rebecca Weliver’s class also participated in the potato project.
As the students launched their project, we took the question of the safety of Sprout Nip to William Kirk, Associate professor, in plant, soil and microbial science at MSU’s Sugar Beet and Potato Pathology Lab.
He said because the video had captured the attention of so many, Michigan’s Potato Council sounded the alarm.
“It’s bad publicity…we are very careful in the potato industry to maintain a safe and secure crop,” said Kirk.
Kirk said in Michigan alone, potatoes are a 150 million dollar industry.
In fact, Montcalm County is the largest potato producing county in the state at 20,000 acres.
Allegan produces 2,000 to 3,000 acres.
Kirk said bad publicity could affect sales.He said the sweet potato video is misleading for many reasons.
The biggest reason, he said Sprout Nip isn’t even used on sweet potatoes.
Kirk said it’s only registered for regular potatoes.
The next problem, he said not all storage facilities apply Sprout Nip.
Kirk said many facilities store potatoes at lower, refrigerated temperatures to keep them from sprouting, naturally.
However, when it comes to those destined to become potato chips, Sprout Nip is a must.
“We have to store them at relatively high temperature,” said Kirk.
He said refrigerated potatoes start accumulating sugars which turn them a dark color during processing.
to keep the chips white and bright, Sprout Nip needs to be applied.
“So, we’re trying to keep potatoes as long as possible to enhance the potato industry, especially in Michigan,” said Kirk.
In fact, he said 70% of Michigan’s 150 million dollar potato crop winds up in a chip bag.
As for health concerns, Kirks says, “These products are perfectly acceptable to eat. Whether they’re organic or non-organic.”
He said the chemical has been in use for 50 years.
As with any vegetable, Kirk said to make sure you don’t have a chemical residue left on the vegetable, you should wash it or peel it before cooking or eating it.
As for our classrooms, we compared how the potatoes grew over a time span of a couple months.
The Bay City Michigan Thunder Bay potatoes, The Betty Crocker brand and Green Giant potatoes, the Idaho Falls potatoes didn’t grow extensively.
It’s unclear whether those potatoes may be inhibited by Sprout Nip.
Kirk said their slow growth may have had more to do with how long the potato stays dormant.
“If you took a chipping variety, which is a long dormancy varieties, it probably won’t sprout,” said Kirk.
As for the potatoes that grew better, the organic potatoes did well, producing thicker green leaves.
However, the the kids thought they would be a top performer based on what they observed in the other video.
“It sort of didn’t go as well as we thought it as going to be,” said one of the students.
The top performers for growth were Richard’s Reds, which grew more than five inches tall in Mrs. Weliver’s Class.
The Michigan Premium Gold also grew tall stalks as well and leaves.
The home-grown potatoes the twins brought in leafed out and put down thick roots.
“I think that it had the biggest sprout,” said one of the students.
But, Kirk said it’s hard to tell what factors are at play.
He said those varieties likely grow easier than others from a cutting, especially reds and yellow potatoes.
So, it may have less to to with whether a potato is treated with a chemical and more about their genetics.
The conclusion, videos like the sweet potato You Tube sensation don’t tell the whole story.
Kirk said there are other factors at work.
Although the teachers at Woodside said it did get the kids excited about agricultural science.
“what a great way to kind of make a connection for the kids as far as their local produce,” said Rebecca Weliver.
Kirk said the US government is again reviewing the use of Sprout Nip this year for safety and effectiveness.
He said that happens with agricultural chemicals periodically.