The potato industry’s health, both in the immediate and long-term, depends on all players working to balance and achieve the value chain’s many, varied needs. Constantly changing consumer demands must be top priority for the industry. However, the needs of producers, packers and processors must also be considered. New varieties can prove beneficial to the entire value chain, solving many of the challenges facing today’s potato industry.
While traditional fresh market Russet sales are losing some market volume, the decrease is off-set as high value and value-added products gain momentum. Consumer demand has increased for thin-skinned, specialty, “healthier-for-you” and small-sized fresh potatoes. Today, many producers are diversifying to grow six, eight or even more varieties for multiple market segments to best spread risk and maximize returns.
Potato breeders spend countless hours developing and testing cultivars to develop a handful of new varieties that will satisfy producers, packers, processors and consumers. While disease resistance and the ability to thrive across varied growing conditions are critical, new varieties must also fit specific market segments. New varieties must not only be economical to grow and appeal to producers, they must also appeal to packers to brand and sell. Add to that a shopping list of other grower demands including yield, uniformity, early maturing, and storability, and the challenges facing breeders are enormous. Yet each year new varieties come to market, bringing the industry important steps forward.
For packers and processors, consistent tuber shape, size uniformity, dry matter distribution and skin finish are critical factors – as is the need for consistent supply. North America’s enormous geographic area means growing conditions can vary widely. As such, a variety that proves successful in one region will not necessarily achieve success in another. Unfortunately, even if a variety does achieve its target yield under less than ideal conditions, loss to disease, bruising, or misshapes can steal a significant portion of the total return to both producers and packers. A variety that performs well under multiple growing conditions is a key factor in helping the industry manage its supply.
At the end of the day, every player in the potato value chain needs to improve their bottom line. For producers, this means increasing saleable yield per acre, reducing loss and growing higher value varieties. For packers and processors, improving their margin includes managing supply. Because consumers are fickle and market demand constantly changes, choosing new varieties that offer improved marketability can help manage producer, packer and processor risk. As such, the value chain must align and keep the end goal – consumer interest – priority number one.