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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Why Did the Potato Become a Major World Crop after Being Transferred from the Andes?

Author
item Brown, Charles

Submitted to: Potato Progress
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: September 2, 2004
Publication Date: September 28, 2004
Citation: Brown, C.R. 2004. Why did the potato become a major world crop after being transferred from the andes?. Potato Progress. IV(14):2.

Technical Abstract: The potato originated in the Andes of South America, was taken to Europe as a botanical curiosity, and in slightly over a century became a major foodstuff of the Northern latitudes. Today China is first in potato production with Russia and Poland in second and third place. Potato is among the most productive of major world crops. The potato is second only to sweet potato in its ability to generate carbohydrate per area per day. Despite the fact that potato is about 80% water weight, its production of dry matter surpasses all the small grains. The prodigious productivity of the potato was crucial in its early adoption in Europe. A family could grow enough potato to feed a family in small plots of infertile and rocky land. For the Irish people the potato supplied a food source that they themselves controlled. Most of the food produced in early nineteenth century Ireland belonged to the landlords. Potato from the family gardens belonged entirely to the family and became a mainstay of nutritional sustenance. Potato increased the sustainability of food production for the poor Irish agriculturalist to the point that from 1790 to 1845, the Irish population increased by four times. The Irish potato famine, caused by the late blight disease, was devastating just because the potato had become a mainstay of the Irish diet. Potato is not known as a protein-rich food, producing about 3% protein by weight in fresh potato. However, if one considers the total protein produced per unit area per day, potato is fourth among the major crops. Adequate protein in the diet of infants is often a serious problem for the world's poor who cannot buy enough highly proteinaceous food, like milk, meat and eggs to supplement an infant's diet. However, potato is often used to rehabilitate seriously malnourished children because of its palatability, digestibility, and the fact that the protein is a very high quality, 78% of egg protein value.

Last Modified: 7/25/2014
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