Consumers will soon be able to leave potatoes on the shelf a good deal longer, with federal regulator approval of a natural food additive that will keep tubers from sprouting.

American Vanguard Corporation (NYSE:AVD) announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, AMVAC Chemical Corporation (AMVAC), has received registration from the Environmental Protection Agency for SmartBlock, a novel potato sprout inhibitor. Canadian and European registrations have been filed and these approvals are progressing on schedule.

"As a result of this very productive and collaborative research relationship, additional intellectual property was developed which resulted in worldwide patent protection,” said Anson Fatland, director of WSU's intellectual property office. "We are very pleased to have partnered with AMVAC on the SmartBlock technology.”

The Washington potato industry has a $4.6 billion economic impact and contributes more than 23,000 jobs to the state of Washington, according to the Washington State Potato Commission.

SmartBlock features a patented new class of potato sprout inhibitor technology that represents a breakthrough approach in the treatment of post-harvest potatoes. The product is a naturally occurring molecule, an FDA-approved direct food additive and is classified by the EPA as a biopesticide.

It offers safe, comprehensive long-term storage control and requires no capital investment by customers since it is easily applied using existing equipment. AMVAC will begin marketing SmartBlock in the United States immediately.

The technology was discovered at Washington State University by Rick Knowles, scientist and chair of the Department of Horticulture, and Lisa Knowles, assistant research professor of horticulture.

The technology involves application of naturally occurring organic compounds after potatoes are harvested and at the onset of sprouting. In testing, the WSU research team found that one application inhibits sprouting for two to three months. Two to three applications can provide full season sprout suppression. Applications leave little residue.

"Drs. Rick and Lisa Knowles have been at the forefront of postharvest research of potatoes, and this success exemplifies the high quality research being carried out by CAHNRS faculty that has significant impact on Washington potatoes,” said Dan Bernardo, WSU's vice president for agriculture and extension and dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).

About half of the 9.4 billion pounds of potatoes grown in Washington each year are stored to provide a continuing supply to fresh markets and processing plants. Most varieties begin to sprout three to four months after harvest. Sprouting hastens deterioration and reduces overall quality.

Growers and processors in the Pacific Northwest, which account for more than half the potato acres in the U.S., spend an estimated $7 million to $9 million annually to inhibit sprouting of stored potatoes, according to Knowles.

The new technology provides an alternative to other compounds used to inhibit sprouting and will facilitate expansion of fresh and processed product exports, particularly to markets with strict chemical residue limits.