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Spud Hub Checks for Postharvest Quality in Tubers

By Jan Suszkiw
July 1, 2003

A postharvest "proving ground" for new tuber germplasm lines makes for busy times at the Agricultural Research Service's Potato Research Worksite in East Grand Forks, Minn.

There, ARS and state university scientists conduct 14,000-15,000 evaluations annually of the storage and processing characteristics of tuber specimens sent in from across the country. For plant breeders submitting germplasm samples, the tests complement field trials by showing how long-term storage affects tuber quality prior to fresh-market sales or processing into value-added commodities such as french fries and chips.

Storage evaluations include checking for signs of rot, shrinkage, injury and physiological disorders that cost the U.S. potato industry and consumers $400 million annually in postharvest losses. Sugar-end defect, a stress-related accumulation of simple sugars, is of particular interest because it can cause discoloration in tubers destined to become chips, which generate $6 billion in U.S. retail sales.

For other processed foods like french fries, evaluations include checks for color, length, texture, taste, oil uptake during frying and limpness--whether or not the cut fries droop over.

From August to October, breeders submit about 1,000 new potato lines for analysis at the worksite, which boasts 46,000 cubic feet of temperature-controlled storage bins and the latest in dehydration equipment. The facility also houses a potato chip and french fry processing line 1/20th the scale of commercial plants.

According to ARS plant physiologist Jeff Suttle, the worksite is the only public facility of this kind in the nation to routinely conduct such quality evaluations. NorValley, Snowden and Dakota Pearl are just a few of the program's many "graduates."

A longer article about the tests and related research appears in this month's issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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