Bringing a new potato variety to market is an incredibly challenging combination of science, marketing and rigorous testing. While only a fraction of new varieties ever make it to commercial production, the few that do reach grocery store shelves are vital to the viability and future of the potato industry. Each successful new variety is an important step forward for breeders, growers, commercial buyers and, ultimately, consumers. As such, all potato industry players should be engaged and informed participants in the field trialling and evaluation process.
Plant breeders develop hundreds of potato varieties each year. The vast majority of these are sidelined early in the development process for physical, agronomic or yield challenges. Those varieties which make it past the initial evaluation are then submitted to replicated regional trials before moving on to pre-commercial field trialling.
Replicated trials allow seed companies to submit varieties to independent third party trial centres in various locations. Each trial centre grows submitted seeds in side-by-side plots, producing results that are unbiased and easily comparable. Because trials take place in multiple areas across North America, Canadian and American seed companies are able to determine which soils and climate best suit individual varieties.
As the trials progress, the entire potato supply chain is offered opportunities to attend field evaluation days to see the new varieties in action.
For seed companies, field evaluation tours are an opportunity to showcase a new variety’s agronomic benefits, appearance, culinary uses, and processing qualities, and then to gauge market interest. No matter how exciting its traits, a variety has a future only if packers, retailers or processors see potential.
For commercial buyers, field tours offer the chance to find new, superior varieties to bring to market. While processors, retailers and packers are always on the lookout for the next big-win potato variety, they are also interested in ‘smaller-win’ varieties that have potential to improve their marketing plan.
Field days also offer an additional, key benefit to everyone from breeders to commercial buyers to growers to retailers. Agriculture tends towards disconnection: much too often, each link in the industry chain is siloed and separate. Field days allow easy and open-invitation opportunities to connect and network with others in the industry, to talk through market trends and changing demand, and to share innovative ideas.
We’ll see you in the field this summer!