Potato Association of America

2021 Honorary Life Member Inductees

One of the most significant ways to recognize outstanding contributions to the potato industry and to our organization, The Potato Association of America, is the awarding of Honorary Life Membership (HLM). This is the highest award bestowed upon an individual by the PAA. Each year at the Annual Meeting of the PAA this award is given to deserving individuals and is considered by many attendees the highlight of the banquet.

William H. Bohl

William’s (Bill’s) earliest recollection of working with potatoes was helping plant them in a large garden on the family farm near Pompey’s Pillar, a tiny, now almost non-existent, town in south central Montana. Having been raised on a farm where they grew sugar beets, dry beans, alfalfa and barley along with raising a small herd of beef cattle, Bill always had a passion for agriculture.

Bill earned a B.S. degree in 1973 in crop production from Montana State University, Bozeman, and immediately continued on to earn an M.S. degree in agronomy from South Dakota State University, Brookings, in 1975. Immediately after obtaining his M.S., Bill participated in a six-month IFYE exchange program where he lived with six farm families in Sweden for three weeks each. After arriving back in the states he taught agriculture courses at Chadron State College in Nebraska for one semester followed by teaching at, then, University of Minnesota Technical College, Crookston, for two academic years.

His experience in Minnesota fostered the desire to pursue a Ph.D. He attended Iowa State University on a graduate teaching assistantship. His doctorate research program was studying nitrogen fixation in alfalfa that led to a Ph.D. in crop production and physiology in 1981.

Bill took a meandering route before becoming involved with the potato industry. His experience in agriculture post-Ph.D. included an off-campus Extension Specialist – Agronomy position with University of Wyoming with emphasis in forage management and as a Technical Services Manager for a seed company in the Midwest.

He was hired in 1990 by University of Idaho as a multi-county Extension Educator working with potato producers in a three-county area where there were approximately 100,000 acres of potatoes grown annually. Bill’s assigned location was in Blackfoot, but he spent many hours at the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center where he learned from many excellent people working in potatoes including Steve Love, Larry Sandvol, Joe Pavek and Dennis Corsini. Steve was instrumental in helping Bill learn about potatoes, and they cooperated on a number of research projects mostly concerning seed piece spacing and depth of which some were published in the American Journal of Potato Research (AJPR). Bill held the multi-county Extension Educator position until July 2010 when his responsibilities with UI were reassigned to mainly horticulture.

Bill’s work in potatoes extends beyond the geographical area he was assigned. From 1991 through June 2010, Bill published the Spudvine newsletter that contained one potato-related article. Of the 210 articles published, Bill authored or co-authored 140 (67%) and edited all others. In 2012, the PAA recognized Bill with the Outstanding Extension Project Award for this newsletter. In 2010, Bill and Steve Johnson, University of Maine, were editors of the second revision of Commercial Potato Production in North America. The previous revision had been completed in 1992 by Joseph B. Sieczka, Cornell University, and Robert E. Thornton, Washington State University. Bill authored or co-authored chapters in the first and second editions of the book, Potato Production Management Systems.

Bill’s service to the PAA includes holding all offices of the Extension Section. He was instrumental in developing and obtaining approval for the Outstanding Extension Project Award that was first awarded at the PAA meeting in 2010. Bill served as director on the executive committee for one year, was a member of the site selection committee for 14 years and chair of that committee for 4 years. Bill was a member of one local arrangements committee and co-chair for the PAA meeting in Idaho in 2007. Bill served four years as Senior Editor-Production and Management of the AJPR.

Bill retired from UI after 24 years in May 2014. He no longer works in potatoes but now enjoys riding his road bicycle in the summer and teaching skiing in the winter.

In recognition of his exceptional service to the PAA and his many accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate Dr. William H. Bohl as an Honorary Life Member of the association.

David Douches

David S. Douches, with over 38 years of experience in potato breeding and genetics, has an active potato breeding program directed toward the development of improved cultivars in Michigan for 34 years. The focus of the program is to develop new cultivars for Michigan’s potato industry by integrating new genetic engineering techniques with conventional breeding efforts. Key traits targeted for improvement Colorado potato beetle resistance, disease resistance to scab, late blight, PVY, and chip processing from long-term storage. Dave leads the Michigan State University potato breeding and genetics project and co-PI in the North Central Regional Potato Breeding and Genetics project. He is director of the USAID-funded Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Project for Indonesia and Bangladesh and the lead scientist in developing four potato SNP arrays used by the potato breeding and genetics community.

In recognition of his exceptional service to the PAA and his many accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate Dr. David Douches as an Honorary Life Member of the association association.                                             

Steven B. Johnson

Steve was hired as an Extension Specialist at the University of Maine in 1988 and quickly rose through the academic ranks to the level of Extension Professor in 2000. Steve is synonymous with Maine potatoes and is well known in many potato-growing areas of the world as a scientist and an educator. His invitations to speak in many of the potato-growing areas of the US and the world to share his expertise attest to this. In addition, three sabbatical leaves have resulted in world-wide contacts and a world-wide view of potato production and issues.

Steve has broad expertise in many aspects of potato production. Early in his career, high numbers of hospital visits and injuries during the potato harvest led him to develop a potato harvest safety program. Injuries were drastically reduced, and serious injuries were nearly eliminated. This effort resulted in a Citation for Meritorious Service to Safety from the Agricultural Division of the National Safety Council in 1992.

He wrote disease-forecasting software for late blight and early blight prediction. The software was trialed on a southern hemisphere sabbatical leave to test the model before the next local growing season. The software targets region-specific weather patterns, but has been used outside of Maine as well. This effort resulted in Steve receiving the Maine Potato Board President’s Award in 1995.

Communication of the specific information and recommendations was lagging behind the need for timely reporting. The establishment of a hotline brought the speed of communication up to that of the recommendations. The hotline still receives in excess of 1000 calls per summer. This effort resulted in a Northeast Extension Director’s Award of Excellence in 1999.

Steve has been on the forefront of two quarantinable pests that have threatened the US potato industry. He has been a strong voice using science to help guide the response and actions on a regional and national level. This effort resulted in Steve receiving the Maine Potato Board President’s Award in 2002.

Steve has always embraced a science-based approach and incorporated technology into his research and extension efforts. He has guided the Maine potato IPM program into recording weather stations. His efforts with potato IPM resulted in a Northeast Extension Director’s Award of Excellence in 2004.

The late blight epidemics have continued to evolve, as has his approaches to disease control. Incorporation of translaminar and systemic materials, prediction of epidemic spread dynamics, and prescription-based approaches have been instrumental in reducing losses to late blight. The final part of the package was post-harvest applications. In addition to carrier rate and chemistry, an applicator was developed. These efforts have virtually eliminated storage bin breakdown. He was recognized in 2008 with the Northeast Region Certified Crop Advisors President’s Award.

A PAA member before he arrived in Maine, Steve became involved with the PAA Extension Section Anti-Bruise committee where he served as secretary and chair of this committee, helping guide the efforts to address the identified issues. He went on to serve as secretary, vice chair, and chair of the Extension Section. He has likewise served in the Plant Protection Section. Additional PAA service includes contributing to and editing the Potato Production in North America publication, being on the Graduate Student Paper committee, and as a member on the organizing committees of PAA meetings held in Maine in 1995 and 2015.

Steve excels in the field where his problem-solving skills are in demand. He has always used science to guide solutions for growers in Maine as well as other places in the world. He has written fact sheets for applied use addressing the issues and solutions as well as journal publications and book chapters. These publications have improved the understanding of issues and have guided production improvements over many years. He has continually embraced technology for production improvements as well as for information delivery.

Best known for his work in potato pathology, he speaks broadly on disease-related topics. A strong proponent of IPM, he is on the American Society of Agronomy’s International Certified Crop Advisor exam committee, strengthening the IPM portion.

In recognition of his exceptional service to the PAA and his many research accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate Dr. Steven B. Johnson as an Honorary Life Member of the association.

Robert K Thornton

Rob started out in 1957 and was soon one of 3 sons and 2 daughters to the Thornton family. He grew up listening to his Dad giving talks to potato growers at the yearly Washington State “Othello Fields Day”. He grew up in Pullman but worked on Family and other farms growing up each summer. In the early 1970’s, he did an experiment and wrote a paper for school on a rapid method to detect bruise of Potatoes. This method is still used today by many potato growers and organizations.

He went to College in Pullman and finished his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Washington State. He was offered a job while in his last year (1980) from the UI Sugar Company as an Agronomist. There he spent the next 18 years conducting Potato research and applying his findings to the more than 14,000 acres of potatoes destined to be made into french-fries. The company, now Agri Northwest Inc. (AGNW), allowed him to use some of  his Potato research towards getting his PhD in Crop Science from Oregon State University in 1994. For that, he is eternally grateful. AGNW also allowed him to represent growers as a member of the Washington State Potato Commission (1989-1991).

Beside conducting small plot research, he had access to over 15 years of on-farm data for over 14,000 acres of Agri Northwest’s potato fields. So, he analyzed that data for trends in potato yield and quality across all kinds of input parameters. He also got to use Dr. RE Thornton’s Potato Harvester and Harvest Equipment Anti-Bruise publications and information to refine and test the recommendations on 36 harvesters and storage equipment each year over the 18 harvest seasons.

While at Agri Northwest, he joined the Potato Association of America (PAA). He remained an active member of the PAA’s Plant Physiology section until he left the Company in 1998. During those years, he served as a Director for several years in the Plant Physiology section as well as an invited Journal Reviewer for the American Potato Journal for 3 years. In 1995,  he gave one of the opening speeches to the PAA annual Symposium hosted by the Plant Physiology section In 1998, he became the Northwest Regional Agronomist for the RD Offutt Company covering Washington, Oregon, and Nevada.

After 2 years he realized that it would be more satisfying to work with people rather than for people. Fortunately, RDO agreed and Thornton Consulting Inc. was started. In the 20 years since then he has been fortunate enough to work with growers all over the United States and several other countries to give input as to how to grow a wide range of potato varieties in the Fresh market, Potato Chip, French-fry and Potato Seed Industries. In addition to helping to grow the potato crops around the USA, he  and other Thornton family members travel throughout the country during potato harvest season helping growers and other potato organizations improve potato bruise by “timing harvesters and harvest equipment”.

He looks forward to once again becoming an active member of the PAA upon retirement, or as he likes to say, “when I choose to slow down.” Hopefully in the near future, he will run into some of his friends and colleges from the potato industry he loves so much, probably in an airport.

In recognition of his exceptional service to the PAA and his many research accomplishments, the Potato Association of America is pleased to designate Dr. Robert K Thornton as an Honorary Life Member of the association.