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One of the colourful new potato selections on display at the AAFC open house event in New Brunswick. All photos: AAFC.

AAFC Unveils New Varieties for 2016

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada potato breeders recently rolled out their most promising new selections at open houses across the country — which for the first time this year included a location in Central Canada.

Canadian growers were able to catch a glimpse of the future at a series of open houses recently hosted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada potato breeders to share the latest results of their accelerated release selections program.

This year’s open houses were held Feb. 10 on three fronts – the Fredericton Research and Development Centre in New Brunswick, the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre in Alberta, and for the first time ever at the Guelph Research and Development Centre in Ontario.

We heard comments from industry, especially in Western Canada, that [they] are mostly a processing [industry] so they need more processing varieties to look at. We are addressing that demand.

– Benoit Bizimungu

A total of 16 new varieties were introduced to potato growers and industry representatives at the open houses, which serve as an opportunity for the AAFC to share the results of its breeding program and invite industry feedback.

Benoit Bizimungu, senior breeder at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre, says one of the most interesting developments for this year’s open house was the introduction of a third site. He says Guelph was added largely because of demand by growers for a location in Central Canada.

“This is a national breeding initiative and we want it to be closer and more present [to growers] across the country,” Bizimungu says. “Having three locations it’s easier for people … to come and interact face-to-face and physically look at the selections and chat about issues. It’s a good way to get more effective communication and feedback.”

Of the 16 new varieties introduced at the open houses, 10 were fresh market selections while chips and french fries made up the remaining six choices. Bizimungu says the breakdown of this year’s selections reflects the AAFC’s desire to present more options with the processing lines it has to offer.

“We heard comments from industry, especially in Western Canada, that [they] are mostly a processing [industry] so they need more processing varieties to look at,” he says. “We are addressing that demand…[and] that’s why you see a little bit more this year and likely are going to see more next year.”

Potato breeder Benoit Bizimungu helped host the AAFC new selections open house event in New Brunswick. All photos: AAFC.

Potato breeder Benoit Bizimungu helped host the AAFC new selections open house event in New Brunswick. All photos: AAFC.

Resistant Varieties

Disease and pest resistance was another major focus of this year’s accelerated releases, according to Agnes Murphy, another breeder and research scientist at theFredericton Research and Development Centre.

One of the most promising new varieties in that regard is the fresh market selection AR2016-16, which carries two copies of a marker associated with resistance to golden nematode. Murphy says it will be of particular interest to growers in areas where the small worm is already infesting potato fields and offshore markets where the pest is an issue. She adds AR2016-10 has shown some potential in terms of resistance to potato virus X (PVX).

Two varieties that appear to offer some promise in terms of pest resistance are the french fry selection AR2016-04 and the fresh market/chip selection AR2016-08. Preliminary results have shown them to be less susceptible to defoliation by the Colorado potato beetle than the Russet Burbank in unprotected plots.

Late blight is estimated to cost almost $10 billion dollars per year worldwide. That’s expensive and a lot of fungicide to be putting on the crop. What we want to do is move away from that.

– Lawrence Kawchuk

“It’s the first time we’ve released something at this stage and said anything about it. It’s something new but it’s still very early days,” Murphy says.

Lawrence Kawchuk, a research scientist who oversees the AAFC potato program in Lethbridge, says developing enhanced resistance to late blight was a key consideration for breeders at the Alberta centre this year. Selection AR2016-03, a french fry potato with russet skin and white flesh, offers some moderate resistance to the destructive fungal disease as well as high yields.

Chef Jason Gosse presented croquettes made from an advanced potato selection released in 2015, at this year's open house event at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre.

Chef Jason Gosse presented croquettes made from an advanced potato selection released in 2015, at this year’s open house event at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre.

Providing increased late blight resistance will benefit growers in two ways, according to Kawchuk. First, it will allow them respond more quickly to the disease because there is less inoculum spreading through their crop. It will also allow growers to reduce their dependency on fungicide to fight the disease, Kawchuk notes.

“Late blight is estimated to cost almost $10 billion dollars per year worldwide,” he says, adding researchers are just starting to see the results of late blight research that began 10 years ago. “That’s expensive and a lot of fungicide to be putting on the crop. What we want to do is move away from that.”

Attractive Potatoes

While this year’s varieties offer a wide range of characteristics, the fresh market selections all have something in common. Bizimungu says developing aesthetically pleasing tubers has become an increasingly important consideration for researchers as consumers demand more choices.

“Appearance is very important in terms of the fresh product. Attractiveness is key in terms of market appeal and potential for the market. That’s why we are trying to improve the appearance,” he says.

“People are used to seeing only white flesh varieties. But there are other colours that exist in nature and we are trying to breed [them] in these varieties. We expect to see more and more in the future. There will be more diversity in the market so consumers can have more choice.”

Murphy says one of the selections that was showcased as the open house that she is particularly excited about is AR2016-07, a fresh market variety with red flesh associated with naturally occurring phytochemicals.

“It’s definitely more of a niche potato, but it has quite a smooth, uniform appearance. When it’s mashed it holds its colour quite well,” she says.

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Grower Jeremy Rood (left), University of Guelph potato researcher Vanessa Currie (centre), and grower Brian Rood were among those attending the AAFC open house event in Ontario.

Enhanced Storability

Although storability may not a consideration for most consumers, it continues to a major focus of the AAFC’s potato breeding program, according to Bizimungu. That’s especially true with french fry and chip varieties, most of which don’t store well at cooler temperatures because they develop high sugar levels which make them unsuitable for processing.

The most promising varieties among this year’s slate of releases are AR2016-03, AR2016-05 and AR2016-09, all of which have demonstrated moderate to long-range dormancy comparable to industry standard Russet Burbank. Dormancy is a measure of physiological age and refers to the length of time after harvest before tubers are released from dormancy and begin to sprout.

“Most of the french fry varieties and chip varieties [this year] have some potential to be stored for a long time at 7 C for now. Eventually we hope to be able to store them at even lower temperatures like 4 C,” says Bizimungu, adding being able to store the tubers at lower temperatures could also reduce the risk of storage diseases and eliminate the need for chemical treatment for sprout inhibition.

Kawchuk says the selections featured at this year’s open houses are the culmination of a 10-year process that began with approximately 90,000 seed samples. The next step will be the distribution of this year’s most promising selections to growers across the country, who will then gauge their performance and provide feedback to the AAFC research team.

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