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U.S. Importing More Potatoes

U.S. volume of imports of dehydrated, fresh, frozen, chips and seed potatoes are up seven per cent from July 2016 to March 2017 compared to the same period the previous year.  The increase of 2.5 million hundredweight (cwt) fresh weight equivalent (fwe) was due to increases in all products except seed potatoes.

The increase was led by fresh potatoes, which were up 17 per cent or 940,173 cwt. Imports of dehydrated potatoes increased six per cent or 370,160 fwe cwt, while frozen imports were up 1.14 million fwe cwt or five per cent.

Canada supplies all of the fresh potatoes and the vast majority of frozen products, while the dehy comes from a number of different sources including Canada, the EU, China and Peru.

Quebec Eyes Seed Potato Export to Latin America and Caribbean

Over the past few decades, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Alberta have exported a considerable amount of seed potatoes from Canada to Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the export market in some of those countries has decreased substantially in the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, seed potato growers from Quebec have almost exclusively exported their seed potatoes to the U.S.

Recently, a couple of seed potato companies from Quebec, together with the Centre de Recherche Les Buissons (CRLB), have started an initiative to export high quality seed potatoes to Latin America and the Caribbean. For this purpose, the CRLB has developed and registered more than 23 potato varieties of which some are known in the U.S. only.

Progest 2001 Inc., a private research and development agricultural company based in Sainte-Croix, Que., has been given the mandate to promote Quebec’s seed potatoes in Latin America and the Caribbean. Starting in late 2013, Progest has sent seed samples to several private and governmental potato organizations in the region. Collaborative agreements were signed with institutions such as the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Agrícolas in Cuba.

As part of the Progest agenda, their professional staff has actively participated in the 2014 Colombia and 2016 Panama congresses of the Potato Association of Latin America (Asociación Latinoamericana de la Papa – ALAP) respectively. In addition, Progest potato specialists have visited potato growers in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Cuba.

Meanwhile, the first containers with commercial high quality seed have already been shipped to Uruguay.

Chinese Scientists to Grow Potatoes on the Moon

Chinese scientists will attempt to grow potatoes on the moon as part of a forthcoming lunar mission.

The potatoes will be sealed inside a “mini ecosystem” as part of the Chang’e-4 mission due to launch next year. They will be sharing a small cylinder on the surface of the Earth’s only natural satellite with silkworm larvae as part of a series of experiments.

The goal is to see whether the insects and spuds will survive on the lunar surface, and the end result will yield important insights about the viability of a future human colony.

New App Available for Control of Phytophthora in Potato

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Agrifirm have cooperated in the development of a new Phytophthora advisory app that has recently been made available to growers on the Akkerweb platform.

Following tests of the new app with more than 80 growers in 2016, the warning system was officially launched this year.

Growers can use the new app to compute the risk of Phytophthora infection of foliage and tubers on the basis of the weather forecast. The app gives preventive advice when the critical threshold level will shortly be exceeded and the protection of the crop is no longer adequate. The app also gives advice for a curative or stop spray treatment when the critical threshold level has already been exceeded.

The aggressiveness of the various Phytophthora (potato late blight) genotypes and the influence of the weather conditions are both very different from 20 years ago. The new Phytophthora app determines the risk of infection on the basis of the influence of the weather conditions on the formation of spores, their dispersion and the resultant infection.

The app is available under the Agrifirm logo in the Netherlands and under the WUR logo outside the Netherlands. The app is currently being tested in different countries including China.


Heavy Rains Cause Losses in Ontario Potato Fields

In late June, it was estimated that roughly 1,000 acres of potatoes were lost due to flooding. Drenching rains in mid-western Ontario earlier in the month left both commercial fields and variety plots ruined.

Rainfall amounts from June 22 to 23 varied in the potato-growing areas, with the Orangeville and Beeton districts the hardest hit. Orangeville received 5.5 inches of rain while Beeton, to the northeast, received 3.5 inches. Roughly 100 acres in that region were lost.

In other locales, Shelburne’s growers recorded between two and four inches, Simcoe-Delhi saw roughly 1.5 inches; Burford to Aylmer received one to two inches, as did the Alliston-Stayner corridor. At the other end of the spectrum, the Leamington area received less than an inch, and some growers were concerned about the dryness.

Keeping Potatoes Alive

Housed in Canada’s centre of excellence for potato research along the Saint John River Valley in Fredericton, N.B., Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) scientists maintain a living library of nearly 180 potentially high-value potato gene resources.

Canada’s potato gene bank, or Canadian Potato Genetic Resources, is part of an international commitment to global food security.

If disease or a natural disaster strikes and potato crops are devastated, researchers from anywhere in the world can turn to the gene bank to rebuild the stock. Researchers can also call on the gene bank for resources to help them develop stronger, more disease-resistant and environmentally resilient varieties

Unlike other gene banks that preserve seed-propagated crops like grains, the potato gene bank is made up of live tissue cultures or tubers that are perishable and require constant maintenance. Plantlets are grown in aseptic conditions in test tubes that are stored in temperature-controlled growth chambers for six to eight weeks at a time. The collection is then refreshed, continuously monitored and periodically tested for contaminations. Microtubers, or tiny potatoes about the size of a raisin, are also produced in test tubes and preserved for up to a year as a backup. A duplicate collection of microtubers is kept at AAFC’s Saskatoon Research and Development Centre.

The collection is comprised of heritage varieties, modern Canadian-bred varieties, as well as strains known to show differential reactions to certain diseases and breeding lines with specific traits scientists are interested in studying. In addition to Canadian varieties, the collection also includes varieties from the U.S., Peru and many European countries including Ireland, the Netherlands and Estonia.

Satellite Technology to Measure Soil Moisture

Agricultural producers could, in the future, make use of better forecasts to more efficiently irrigate their fields using a Purdue-developed technology that could more accurately sense soil moisture below the surface through measuring the reflections of communication satellite signals.

The technology makes use of a specialized receiver to capture reflections of communication satellite signals having wavelengths of about one metre (39 inches), which scientists refer to as “P-band.”

Conventional satellite technology used for measuring soil moisture cannot operate at these longer wavelengths due to the required antenna size and the substantial interference from communications links. Current observations of soil moisture from a satellite uses wavelengths of about 20 cm (eight inches) and can only penetrate the soil about five cm (two inches). Predictions of sub-surface soil moisture currently require the application of models to extend the surface measurements deeper.

The new technique is known as “signals of opportunity,” or SoOp, and essentially utilizes the same transmissions that are the source of interference that prevents measurements from other methods. P-band SoOp is expected to be sensitivity to soil moisture down to 15 to 20 centimetres, or about six to eight inches, below the surface. Reflections of the signals from the surface are compared to the original satellite signals.

Researchers have tested a prototype of the instrument on a small plane during an experiment in the Little Washita watershed in Oklahoma. They now plan to collect data from a fixed tower location to observe the changes in a single agricultural field over at least one growing season.

If successful, this technology can be mounted on drones for planning the irrigation schedule of crops.

Scottish Researchers Engineer Heat Tolerance in Potato Crops

Scientists at the James Hutton Institute and the University of St. Andrews have developed a technique to “engineer” heat tolerance in potato crops, potentially providing potato breeders with a valuable tool in their quest to create varieties suited to the requirements of growers, industry and retailers.

By comparing many different types of potato, scientists at the Institute have found a version of a gene involved in the heat stress response that is more active in potato types that can tolerant high temperature. The team went on to show that the switch that turns the protective gene on is different in the heat tolerant types.

The challenge now is to introduce this version of the gene to potato breeding programs for the development of a more resilient crop. This research will assist breeders in developing heat tolerant varieties, particularly important for seed exports to warmer countries.

New Low-Carb Spud on Shelves in New Zealand

A new potato with 40 per cent less carbohydrates and calories than ordinary potatoes has been launched in New Zealand. The low-carb potatoes, called Lotatoes were created by cross-breeding different varieties.

It took more than five years to create the Lotatoes. According to the company that created the potato, T&G Global, the new spud looks and taste like “a top-notch potato” but without the carbs and calories.


Spud Smart Founder Joins Ag Hall of Fame

Spud Smart founder Robynne Anderson will join the prestigious Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2017.

Anderson began her long and distinguished career in Canadian agriculture as a legislative assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, working on the new Plant Breeder’s Rights Act. Her knowledge of agriculture and experience in government set the course for creating Issues Ink – her consulting firm that worked closely with the Canadian Seed Trade Association.

She founded and published several agricultural magazines including Spud Smart and Germination. Anderson now operates Emerging Ag – an agricultural consulting firm. Throughout her career, she has worked throughout the value chain in the agriculture and food sector, in Canada and internationally. Anderson lives in Calgary and was nominated by the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, the Canadian Seed Trade Association, SeCan Association and Stokes Seeds.

New Brunswick Potato Farmers Launch Potato Vodka

A family of New Brunswick potato farmers are getting into the booze business by making vodka from spuds. Blue Roof Distillers has joined a small handful of distillers in the country making the product.

The Strang family has been farming in the community of Malden, N.B. since 1855.  For decades, the blue roofs on their barns have symbolized potatoes. But now they also represent their new line of ultra-premium Blue Roof vodka.

Potato vodka has been around since the days of the backyard still, but this is a first for New Brunswick.


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