Potatoes are big business in the Northwest, but keeping that market means developing new tubers that stand up to disease while also meeting consumer needs. There's that need for crispy french fries, big bakers with soft insides, and uniformly sized chips or fingerlings for roasting. Meeting those needs requires research.
Oregon State University works in partnership with USDA and universities in Idaho and Washington to develop new varieties of potatoes to meet those needs. The program is focused on producing new varieties that not only resist pests and diseases, but are also attractive, have higher yields and are more nutritious. These new lines also have to handle processing better.
The tri-state effort has been hard at work with the release of more than 35 new varieties. Varieties released by the program are now produced on more than 130,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest, and also represent about 22% of national potato crop. In Oregon, more than a third of the potato acres are planted to varieties developed in this program.
For example, Alturas produces yields similar to or greater than the most commonly grown cultivar, Russet Burbank. Yet it uses 40% less nitrogen.
In fact, nearly all potato varieties released by this tri-state partnership in the past decade require 20% to 25% less nitrogen to produce yields similar to Russet Burbank. Collectively, these varieties could potentially reduce nitrogen applied in Pacific Northwest potato fields by about 8 million pounds, which would be about a $5.7 million savings to growers. And that reduced nitrogen use could reduce nitrate-contaminated groundwater in the region.
The work has also resulted in the creation of the Umatilla Russet, which is one of only four varieties served by the world's largest fast-food chain. It is also the fifth-most-widely certified seed potato in the U.S. in acres certified.
An interesting fact: Potatoes are the third-most consumed food crop in the world, after rice and wheat. Washington, Oregon and Idaho produced 57% of the nation's potatoes in 2013.
You can learn more about OSU's potato breeding program in the recent Oregon's Agricultural Progress magazine. Check out that story here.
Source: Oregon State University