[deck]Fresh market potatoes dominate this year’s list of new offerings from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s accelerated release selections program.[/deck]
Potatoes are the third most important food source in the world, so there’s no denying the importance of advancing the crop to help feed a burgeoning global population. Breeding new, successful varieties is one way to measure progress in the potato production pipeline.
Earlier this year at its annual accelerated release selections open house in Fredericton, N.B., Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada unveiled its choices of promising, new potato varieties. Running since 1998, the national program gives potato evaluators and producers the opportunity to trial selections bred at AAFC’s Potato Research Centre in Fredericton—and since 2009, also from the Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta.
“The [accelerated release] open house provides an opportunity to get feedback that is useful to the breeding program,” says Benoit Bizimungu, research scientist, potato breeder and gene resources curator with the PRC. “I am entirely satisfied with how this year’s event went. At Fredericton, we had industry representatives and growers attending from as far as Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, P.E.I., Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia, and obviously from New Brunswick. And for the first time, the open house event was held concurrently at the [Fredericton] Potato Research Centre and at the Lethbridge Research Centre, with a video link available during the invited speakers’ presentations.”
Agnes Murphy, a research scientist with AAFC, maintains the event is not just an opportunity to view what’s new and up-and-coming in potato breeding, but it also provides those directly involved in the industry with a chance to network. “We try to be responsive and watch the trends,” she says. “It is particularly interesting to get together with all the different industry players to hear what it is the end users want, and what some of the production difficulties the growers are dealing with.”
AAFC produces its accelerated release selections annually through a combination of traditional breeding techniques and emerging new technologies. This year, 14 selections were on display, chosen from more than 120,000 different varieties. These new varieties have undergone six years of field and lab testing, and are backed by data from preliminary disease and performance evaluation trials.
The varieties coming out of the early selection trials are not finished cultivars, but are released into the industry for further evaluation by growers in their own production settings. Producers receive a limited quality of the breeder’s seed, and the rights to non-exclusive testing for two years. After the two-year period, cash bids can be submitted for a further three-year period of exclusive testing. By or before the end of the exclusive test period, a six-year renewable licence to commercialize a selection may be negotiated.
Bizimungu says new varieties for the fresh market dominate this year’s selections. “With nine selections out of 14 offered this year, fresh market selections occupy the lion’s share,” he says. “They include potentially better alternatives to current red skin, yellow flesh and Russet fresh market varieties, with good resistance to the diseases that can reduce the value of a potato crop. Others included four new chipping selections and one french fry selection with high yield and good quality.”
According to Murphy, disease resistance is another important component of the selections. “A number of them have resistance to golden nematode (race one), and that has become more of an attribute that is of interest in different parts of the country and export markets,” she says. “Several [selections] have virus resistance either to PVY or to PVX and, generally speaking, I think it is fair to say that the levels of scab resistance have been fairly good this year across the board—although that remains to be seen, with further evaluation [required] on different sites with different production systems.”
Each of the new varieties has its own set of strengths and attributes, as well as the potential to be utilized in different ways. The lone french fry selection (AR2013-1) is oblong with heavy brown skin and cream-coloured flesh, and boasts good fry, boil and bake scores. This variety also possesses a very high yield and moderate resistance to late blight.
The four chip selections are all round—two have a cream flesh and two a light yellow flesh, all promising good chip colour. Other attributes within these chip selections are very high yield and resistance to golden nematode and scab (AR2013-02), cold storage potential and extreme resistance to PVX (AR2013-03), very early maturity (AR2013-04) and long dormancy (AR2013-05).
As the largest group, the fresh market selections possess many different attributes. Two of them have an interesting skin characteristic, namely pink splash marks that resemble lipstick patterns (AR2013-08, AR2013-14). Although features like this are sometimes seen as a novelty, appearance and perception are important when it comes to selling fresh market potatoes.
Other notable traits within the fresh market selections are low defects and potential for the count carton trade (AR2013-10), resistance to golden nematode, wart and scab (AR2013-11), and uniform tubers and attractive appearance (AR2013-12). Four of the nine fresh market selections possess extreme resistance to PVX, and five of them carry a dry boil and bake texture.
Broad Discussion of Industry Topics
The open house also featured a number of speakers from numerous sectors within the potato industry. “There were a number of different things addressed,” says Murphy. “It all depends on your role in the industry, but there was a presentation from a food distributor [Paul Nickerson, produce merchandising manager with Sysco Atlantic Canada], and he discussed how the distribution of the foods work and what the requirements are for potatoes from different restaurants and franchises. So that was pretty interesting to the group.”
Other presenters included Xianzhou Nie, a molecular virology research scientist with the PRC who spoke on potato varietal response to PVY strains, and LRC research scientist Larry Kawchuk, who discussed late blight evolution and prevention. Ellen Larsen-Kouwenberg, export development co-ordinator with Potatoes Canada, also talked about export market development initiatives and the role of new varieties.
In addition to being held concurrently at the PRC and the LRC via video link, this year’s open house had another first. Joyce Coffin, a private potato researcher and breeder based in Prince Edward Island, delivered a presentation on behalf of the Canadian Private Potato Breeders Network, which “gave us an opportunity to compare objectives,” says Murphy.
Industry players in attendance, says Murphy, appreciate the opportunity to express their concerns, discuss sector issues and suggest potato qualities that would benefit their production. Potato breeders also see it as an opportunity to work closely with producers, packers, processors and exporters to develop new varieties which meet industry and consumer requirements for quality and flavour.
“Certainly, lately we are hearing about virus levels in the crops, and notably the change in strain makeup of potato virus Y and [how] sometimes the symptom development in selections or cultivars is not amenable to rouging visually,” says Murphy. “In other words, you can’t see the symptoms very clearly, so the producer may not realize the extent of the infection level.
“There was also discussion about stress resistance, particularly drought tolerance and things of that nature, in anticipation of effects from climate change. We also heard producers asking for good skin colour that will stay nice and bright through cold storage,” she says.
Murphy says the annual event is a team effort. “We have the breeding staff, the technicians, the breeders, and administrative staff that really shoulder the load.” But she’s quick to add that all of the work is definitely worth it: “We had quite a bit of positive feedback, a lot of buzz about the [new] varieties, and I also think that people enjoyed the program this year.”
French fry wedge cuts/fresh market. Oblong selection with heavy brown skin, cream flesh, good french fry, boil and bake scores, very high yield and moderate resistance to late blight.
Chip. Round to oval selection with smooth white skin, cream flesh, good chip colour, very high yield, resistance to golden nematode and to scab.
Chip. Round selection with flaky white skin, light yellow flesh, good chip colour, cold storage potential, extreme resistance to PVX, moderate resistance to scab.
Chip. Round selection with smooth light yellow skin, light yellow flesh, very good chip colour, very early maturity and resistance to PVX.
Chip. Round selection with white skin, cream flesh, good chip colour, and long dormancy.
Fresh market. Round selection with smooth dark red skin, white flesh and resistance to scab.
Fresh market. Oval to oblong selection with smooth light yellow skin, light yellow flesh and extreme resistance to PVX.
Fresh market. Round to oval selection with pink splashed light yellow skin, yellow flesh, relatively moist cooking texture, and extreme resistance to PVY.
Fresh market. Round selection with smooth red skin and light yellow flesh, relatively moist cooking quality and extreme resistance to PVX.
Fresh market. Blocky, oblong selection with brown russet skin and cream flesh, dry cooking texture, low defects and resistance to golden nematode, some indication of moderate late blight and scab resistance, potential for the count carton trade.
Fresh market. Oblong selection with brown russet skin, cream flesh, dry boil and bake texture, low defects, resistant to golden nematode, wart and scab.
Fresh market. Oval selection with buff skin, cream flesh, uniform tubers, attractive appearance, dry boil and bake texture, low incidence of defects, extreme resistance to PVX with some indication of scab resistance.
Fresh market. Round-oval selection with smooth light red skin with white eyes, light yellow flesh, dry boil and bake texture, low defects, wart resistance, and some indication of resistance to golden nematode.
Fresh market. Oval-oblong selection with pink splashed yellow skin and yellow flesh, dry boil and bake texture, low defects, extreme resistance to PVY, resistance to golden nematode and some indication of wart resistance.
Private Breeders Promote Variety
Among those in attendance at the AAFC’s accelerated release selections open house were representatives from the Canadian Private Potato Breeders’ Network, who presented an overview of breeding efforts by six of their members. According to Joyce Coffin, a potato breeder and owner of Prince Edward Island-based Privar Farm Inc., the meetings were productive, and discussions about collaborative projects are ongoing.
The CPPBN was formed In December 2011 by Coffin and other private potato breeders. According to its mission statement, the network exists “so the participants can gain knowledge and enter into working relationships with each other, and with AAFC and CFIA of the federal government, to pursue common goals in areas of research associated with the breeding of new potato varieties in Canada.”
According to Coffin, “The most important objective for all of us is being able to access good genetic material for our breeding projects. That’s something a government body can do. We, as disparate bodies, can’t do that, but government organizations can produce genetics and we can use them to breed virus resistance or late blight resistance into new selections and eventually varieties of potatoes.”
Coffin adds that, “In the long term, the success of the production of new varieties of potatoes in Canada will be determined by a good collaborative working relationship among the private and the public breeders and their associates.”
The Network’s members each have specialized focuses, but they are all devoted to excellence in private potato breeding in Canada. “That’s the main objective—that hopefully the government will stay focused on primary genetic work that we as breeders can access and use in our breeding programs,” says Coffin.