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USDA Agency to Honor Potato Research Team / February 12, 2003 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Ivory Crisp (foreground) and Alturas potatoes:  Link to photo information
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Dennis Corsini and Richard Novy evaluate tubers of the red-skinned variety IdaRose
News story about the research (Jan. 2003)

USDA Agency to Honor Potato Research Team

By Jan Suszkiw
February 12, 2003

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 12—Providing the U.S. potato industry with new, improved tuber varieties has netted Dennis L. Corsini, Joseph J. Pavek, Richard G. Novy and Charles R. Brown a top award for technology transfer from the Agricultural Research Service, the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

ARS will honor the four scientists and other award-winning researchers here today at a 1 p.m. ceremony at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

The Technology Transfer Awards program, begun in 1986, provides “a venue each year to honor ARS researchers who’ve gone the extra mile in moving promising new research technologies from the lab bench to the marketplace,” said Edward B. Knipling, acting ARS administrator.

Knipling will present the four ARS researchers with plaques and cash awards for their scientific leadership and collaboration with University of Oregon, University of Idaho and Washington State University scientists on the Northwest (Tri-State) Potato Variety Development Program, which has provided the states’ potato industries with 20 new varieties that, in 2001 alone, generated $295 million in farm sales.

Novy, a research geneticist, works at ARS’ Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Unit in Aberdeen, Idaho. Corsini and Pavek, both retired, are ARS collaborators with the Aberdeen Unit. Brown is a research geneticist with ARS’ Vegetable and Forage Crops Production Research Unit in Prosser, Wash.

Since 1985, the team has collaborated with state researchers and industry representatives to develop new tuber varieties aimed at helping the Northwest potato industry economically weather crop disease outbreaks and foreign competition.

A main objective has been developing potatoes with characteristics important to the fresh-pack and processing markets, such as those for making french fries, chips and dried or frozen potato products. The traits include high-quality interiors less prone to defects, a uniformly-shaped exterior, low glycoalkaloid and sugar contents, stability in storage, and disease resistance to pathogens such as verticillium wilt, viruses and late blight.

Incorporating these traits into a potato variety ready for release is a 12- to 15-year undertaking. The Northwest team’s breeding efforts begin at Aberdeen, where Novy and Pavek make the initial crosses using parent potato plants and complementary, or genetically compatible, germplasm lines. Corsini headed up the program’s plant pathogen studies, particularly against the late blight fungus. Brown, at Prosser, identifies and develops germplasm with needed traits for use in cross-breeding at Aberdeen.

From such crosses, the team may generate 800 to 900 families or groups of offspring. Annually, up to 175,000 seedlings from these crosses are grown in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Only those that make the cut for desirable yield, agronomic performance and disease resistance in replicated field tests the following year are selected for further development.

A Tri-State Technical Committee that the ARS team helped organize, comprising university collaborators, industry representatives and others, then reviews data on the candidate spuds. If the spud is deemed commercially ready, the lead scientist behind its development proposes a name and prepares a public release announcement. Under the program, “early- generation” seed of the new variety is provided to private seed producers who can then propagate it for sale to growers and gardeners.

An economic analysis by the University of Idaho estimates that, for every $1 spent on the Northwest tuber breeding program, around $38 is returned back to the region’s potato industry.

Some of the program’s releases are Umatilla Russet, Alturas, Ivory Crisp, CalWhite, IdaRose, Gem Russet, Bannock Russet, and Ranger Russet, which is the nation’s third most widely-planted variety.

Besides helping the region’s tuber industry capture a greater share of the U.S. market for French fries, chips and frozen or dehydrated potato products, the Northwest program has also sought to open new market outlets.

The latest example is the team’s development of red-, orange- and purple-fleshed potatoes with unique new flavors and added health benefits. Some of the orange potatoes, for example, have up to four times more of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin than white potatoes. The colored potatoes also are rich in vitamin C, folic acid, iron and other nutrients. But the antioxidants are of special interest, since they apparently neutralize oxygen free radicals, cell-damaging molecules that can accumulate and cause harm in the human body.

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Last Modified: 2/11/2003
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