Superb New Potatoes
Offered by Breeders
In a field at the Aberdeen
Research and Extension Center
in Idaho, geneticist Rich Novy
(left) and plant pathologist
Dennis Corsini dig up a single
plant of the Alturas variety.
When was the last time you snacked on crunchy potato chips, ordered
a serving of golden fries, or sliced open a piping-hot baked potato?
If you're like most Americans, you eat these or other potato products
several times a week.
To satisfy our appetite for potatoes, ARS
scientists breed and test promising new tubers for tomorrow. These potatoes
not only please shoppers, but also meet growers' needs for hardy, productive
plants suitable for producing in the West.
ARS' potato-breeding effort at Aberdeen, Idaho, about 200 miles southeast
of Boise, is among the best-known in the nation. Since 1949, the Aberdeen
scientists and collaborators have offered superb new potato varieties
uniquely suited to key potato-growing regions of Idaho, Oregon, Washington,
California, and Colorado. In fact, if you live in any of the western
states, chances are good that a premium potato you enjoyed at a restaurant
or purchased at the supermarket was a graduate of the Aberdeen breeding
program. The team's Ranger Russet, for instance, is one of their most
successful. Developed with university colleagues and made available
in 1991 to breeders and potato-seed growers, Ranger Russet is now the
third most widely planted potato in the United States.
Ivory Crisp potatoes (foreground)
are ideal for chips, and Alturas
potatoes (background) make
What makes a potato perfect? The qualities of the perfect potato mostly
depend on its intended use, says plant pathologist Dennis L. Corsini.
He recently retired from ARS at Aberdeen and is now a collaborator.
"For baking or processing into fries," he says, "you
want a potato that has relatively little water and more of what we call
solids. These are compounds such as starch that give a potato its texture.
High-solids potatoes tend to absorb less oil when fried.
"On the other hand, for boiling to make whipped potatoes or potato
salad," says Corsini, "you want a potato that has more water
and comparatively fewer solids."
Sidestepping Storage Dilemmas
How a processing-type potato responds to long-term cold storage is
critical. "Most potatoes grown for processing are harvested at
about the same time all across the country," Corsini says. "Since
they can't all be processed at the same time, most end up in storage,
often for as long as 10 months.
Geneticist Rich Novy (background)
and plant pathologist Dennis
Corsini harvest tubers of an
experimental potato selection.
"Once you dig them up," he explains, "all potatoes begin
converting their starch into sugar." The best potatoes for processing
into fries or chips are those that convert starch into sugar very slowly.
During frying, these lower-sugar potatoes are unlikely to darken and
develop an unwanted burnt-sugar flavor. Higher-sugar potatoes are more
likely to have those problems.
Cool storage temperatures inhibit rot and other potato diseases and
thwart sprouting. But coolness enhances the problematical conversion
of starch to sugar.
A technique called reconditioning has to be used for some potatoes
that don't do well in cold storage. After they are taken out of cold
storage, and before they can be processed, these tubers are reconditioned,
that is, warmed for several weeks to lower the levels of sugar that
Besides needing littleif anyreconditioning, candidate potatoes
also need to be free of defects like knobs, growth cracks, or hollow
heartthe odd cavity that sometimes shows up in a potato's center.
Disease resistance is also key. "Some of the potato cultivars we've
recently released are moderately resistant to tuber rot caused by the
late-blight fungus," says ARS plant geneticist Richard G. Novy
at Aberdeen. "Most are also resistant to an early death from diseases
like Verticillium wilt."
Preparing to unload
Collaborations Speed Development and Testing
The process of breeding and testing potato varieties and making them
available as seed can easily take 12 to 15 years. This work could take
even longer if it weren't for the collaborations of ARS scientists and
their university and industry colleagues. For example, the Aberdeen
scientists are part of the unique Tri-State Potato Variety Development
Program. It links their expertise with that of co-investigators at Oregon
State University, Washington State University, and the University of
Idaho. Varieties from the program are released jointly by ARS and the
"This alliance," says Novy, "has a big impact because
growers in the three-state region produce about 50 percent of the U.S.
potato harvest." Since 1985, when the program began, 17 Tri-State
varieties have been released.
The ARS potato breeders also work closely with colleagues from the
University of California at Davis, Colorado State University, North
Dakota State University, and Texas A&M University.
Postdoctoral geneticist Anne
Gillen uses a digital image
analyzer to see differences
in DNA that could help
determine whether a potato
plant carries virus-resistance
genes from a wild relative.
"These collaborations among scientists from different regions
and disciplines," says Novy, "save time and money by speeding
the process and preventing duplication of effort."
Six Terrific New Tubers
Why do we need so many new and different potatoes? To meet market demand
for higher yield, improved quality, and better resistance to insects
and diseases. Higher yields and better quality make producing and processing
more efficient. "In turn, that helps keep consumer prices stable
and may even lower them," Novy points out. Enhanced insect and
disease resistance can also reduce the need for pesticides.
In all, the potato breeders aim to provide new varieties that have
a carefully developed selection of genes for traits that will score
big with growers, processors, and consumers alike.
Plant pathologist Dennis Corsini
and geneticist Rich Novy
evaluate tubers of the
red-skinned variety IdaRose
during harvest. IdaRose
originated from the Aberdeen
breeding program and was named
and released in 2000.
Currently, most of the research focuses on breeding and evaluating
candidate potatoes that are dual purpose. As such, they can be processed
into products like fries or dehydrated flakes for making mashed potatoes,
yet can also be sold fresh in the produce section.
In the last several years, tubers offered to western growers have included
several dual-purpose russet-type potatoes. They are known for their
excellent texture; long, attractive shape; and the distinctive netting,
or russeting, of their light-brown skin.
Following are highlights of recent and upcoming Tri-State potatoes:
- Alturas is a very high-yielding potato that was originally developed
for dehydrated products. It is now being evaluated for the fresh produce
market and for processing into fries.
This potato did very well when taken out of cold storage and used immediatelywithout
reconditioningto make fries. What's more, in 32 trials in Idaho,
Oregon, and Washington, Alturas yielded 37 percent more than the industry
standard, the venerable Russet Burbank. Alturas also had a higher percentage
of premium U.S. No. 1 tubers.
- Ivory Crisp is a round, white tuber ideal for processing into chips.
"The biggest selling point of this potato," Novy says, "is
its ability to produce good-quality chips even if taken immediately
from long-term cold storage." North Dakota State University will
participate in its release.
- Klamath Russet, a fresh-market variety, "was identified by
Oregon collaborators as well-suited for growing in the Klamath Basin
of southern Oregon and northern California," says Novy. It was
released in 2001.
- Wallowa Russet, offered in 2002, is a dual-purpose potato that produced
more U.S. No. 1 tubers than Russet Burbank at many sites in Oregon,
Washington, and Idaho.
ARS, Colorado State University, and the University of Idaho teamed
up to launch two new cultivars in 2001:
- Silverton Russet, a dual-purpose potato, originated from Aberdeen
and was selected and developed further in Colorado. It has strong
potential for high yields from irrigated fields in the West and Midwest.
- Keystone Russet is a fresh-market variety that produced high yields
With the exception of Ivory Crisp, all these varieties originated from
crosses made by Joseph J. Pavek. A long-time potato breeder with ARS
at Aberdeen, he is now retired.
The scientists are now readying a potato that is remarkably resistant
to the late-blight fungus. The tuber will be especially welcomed by
growers whose fields have been hard-hit by this formidable pathogen.By
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources,
Genomics, and Genetic Improvement, an ARS National Program (#301) described
on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
Richard G. Novy is with the
Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit, 1693 S., 2700 W., Aberdeen,
ID 83210; phone (208) 397-4181, ext. 111, fax (208) 397-4311.
"Superb New Potatoes Offered by Breeders" was published
in the January
2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.