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Superb New Spuds from ARS Potato Breeders

By Marcia Wood
January 14, 2003

A perfectly baked potato, topped with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives, makes a hearty addition to supper on a cold winter evening. Agricultural Research Service potato breeders and their university and industry colleagues are helping bring newer and better potatoes from research fields to your fork.

These improved potatoes resist attack by natural enemies such as microbes that cause plant diseases. And, some of the new varieties hold up in cold storage better than their predecessors--an especially important trait for potatoes that need to be set aside until there's time to process them into fries, for instance. That's according to Richard G. Novy, a plant geneticist with the ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit at Aberdeen, Idaho, about 200 miles southeast of Boise.

The Aberdeen potato-breeding research is among the best known in the nation. ARS scientists work with university co-investigators in Washington, Oregon and Idaho as part of the Northwest Potato Variety Development Program. This program produced, for example, Ranger Russet potato. Made available to potato breeders and seed growers in 1991, Ranger Russet is now the third most-widely planted potato variety in the United States.

More recently, the team has developed such tasty new tubers as Alturas. In tests in three Western states, Alturas yielded 37 percent more tubers than Russet Burbank, the industry standard. Other examples include Ivory Crisp, a round, white potato ideal for processing into chips, and Klamath Russet, a fresh-market potato that researchers showed was ideal for planting in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon and northern California.

Potatoes are a convenient source of fiber, vitamin C and potassium.

An article in the current issue of the ARS monthly journal, Agricultural Research, tells more about progress in potato breeding.

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