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[deck]Agriculture and Agri-food Canada potato breeders unveil their choice of promising new varieties at their annual open house.[/deck]

Officials with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada’s potato breeding program held their annual potato accelerated release open house at the Potato Research Centre (PRC) in Fredericton, N.B. on Feb. 11. As was the case since 2013, the event was held concurrently at the Fredericton facility and at the Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta, with a video link providing access to presentations by invited speakers.

Benoit Bizimungu, senior potato breeder and national study leader, was pleased with the turnout for this year’s event.

“We always enjoy good attendance and support from the industry, and this year was no exception,” he says. “It is of course of great importance to us to always keep closely in touch with industry’s needs and expectations for future new varieties, and the open house event provides an excellent opportunity to consolidate our relationship with representatives from all sectors of the broader Canadian potato community.”

As Canada’s only government-funded national potato breeding initiative, the AAFC program provides the Canadian potato industry with an opportunity to trial potato selections that are deemed to be the most promising varieties for potential commercialization. New varieties are bred at both the Fredericton and Lethbridge research facilities.  Although nationally focused, the centres are also closely linked with the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, as well as with leading potato research centres in North America and in Europe.

During the annual open house event each February, the centres’ best prospects for new potato varieties are offered for evaluation trials by industry through the AAFC’s accelerated release program. More than 120,000 hybrid seedlings that were grown, tested and measured over the past six years have been narrowed down to 16 promising varieties for release this year, based on their potential interest to sectors within the processing and fresh markets.

“I am especially impressed with the overall disease and pest resistance of the varieties that were released this year,” says Agnes Murphy, breeder and research scientist at the PRC. “A fairly large portion of this year’s varieties should be of interest to the processing industry, but we have a number of varieties available that are promising candidates for the fresh industry [and] also for specialized markets.

“There is a clear trend among consumers to try varieties that are somewhat ‘off the beaten track’, such as blue-skinned and blue flesh types. We had a fair bit of success with AAC Blue Steele for instance — a blue variety released a few years ago,” she says.

Bizimungu says he’s excited about a new red-skinned variety released this year, which holds considerable promise for the fresh and specialty markets.

“Industry asked for a red skin variety that ranks high as far as appearance is concerned. I believe we have such a candidate in AR2015-15. This variety performed very well in our trials, showing wide adaptability, and in my view it can possibly replace Chieftain or Norland in the red category,” he says.

Bizimungu refers to another new selection, AR2015-16, that shows similar promise, describing it as “a high yielding variety that also has a wide adaptability and a ‘bonus’ trait in the sense that it consistently showed PVY resistance.”

Recognizing Market Needs

Lawrence Kawchuk, the research scientist overseeing the AAFC program in Lethbridge, says breeders there are cognizant of market needs in Western Canada.

“The breeding team is focused on irrigated production varieties mostly for processing, as about 75 per cent of the potatoes are for the processing market,” he says. “Quality is really important to us as considerable product is shipped to the growing Pacific Rim markets.”

J. Edward Hurley, associate director at the PRC, says the program is keen to satisfy industry needs and is focused on finding new solutions for new market goals, communicating often with industry players to ensure that a market-driven approach is followed in breeding efforts.

“The direction that we follow at both centres is one with a long-term view,” he says. “We are keenly aware that potato varieties of the future need to be adaptable to climate change, fit into a sustainable program at farm level, and most certainly leave a limited footprint on the environment. Our view is that varieties of the future should produce more in volume and be better in quality, but with less input from growers — especially inputs that might harm the environment.”

Bizimungu shares this opinion. “Our focus at the centre is without a doubt to breed varieties that can yield a higher percentage of good quality marketable product for growers, but need less of the typical inputs such as fertilizer and chemicals than traditional varieties,” he notes. “In this respect, we constantly involve specialists from other disciplines to assist us with their expertise, such as pathologists and agronomists.”

According to Murphy, breeders traditionally build on the work of their predecessors and the extensive performance records of new varieties that have been collected and managed over the years — although they are becoming increasingly reliant on new techniques.

“These days we look forward to the application of new molecular and genomic approaches which are rapidly being developed and fine-tuned by scientists within AAFC and other institutions,” Murphy says.  “Every step of the way from when the crosses are first made in the greenhouse to the day of the open house five or six years later, a group of highly dedicated and skilled people assist the breeders to make it happen.”

Murphy stresses that breeding a new potato variety is essentially a team effort that benefits from the sustained contributions of many. “We as breeders have great appreciation for the valuable input from many other dedicated people, such as the staff working in the greenhouses and the [PRC] substation at Benton Ridge, for example,” she says.

Asset to Industry

Fred McCardle, a long-time potato grower on Prince Edward Island, considers the AAFC breeding program an irreplaceable asset to the Canadian industry as a whole.

“In my experience, the program as such — as well as the breeders and other staff involved — are well focused and motivated to provide our industry with exceptional material to take beyond the breeding and trialing phases in the typical life cycle of any new variety,” he says.

“We as growers realize that there is a certain risk involved when a new variety is trialed at farm level, and the outcome might not be similar to what the breeders have found, but I have been very satisfied in the past with the data that was provided to me about new varieties that I bought during the bidding process.”

Joel Vanderschaaf, general manager at the Saskatchewan-based Tuberosum Technologies, says, “We have looked at and trialed quite a number of the new cultivars coming out of Ag Canada’s breeding program, and we have definitely seen improvement in the quality of their material the past few years.

“We are quite excited about the ‘AAC Poppy’, a beautiful red-skinned variety we have the rights to commercialize from their program. It’s still in its early stages, but early indications are that it will eventually turn out to be a commercial winner for our company,” Vanderschaaf says.

Ontario potato consultant Warren Rood says he’s had good luck with AAFC new selections. “I and some of my clients have trialed several varieties released from the program,” he says, “and we have had success with at least three fresh market varieties in the past which lived up to our expectations from a table market perspective — namely good eye appeal, an overall marketable yield which is higher than that of typical traditional varieties produced in Canada, and of course good-tasting qualities from a consumer point of view.”

Rood maintains the industry needs as many new varieties as it can get, and that the AAFC program should continue to ramp up efforts to breed more functional and specialty varieties in the future.

“I notice an increased interest from consumers in these kinds of potatoes at retail level, and I would highlight yellow varieties and the so-called baby or small potatoes as two distinct examples in this regard,” he says.

“I realize that it takes quite a number of years before a variety [goes] through the different phases of breeding, trialing and farm-level testing before it might eventually be at a stage where it can be commercialized, but the sooner the process gets off the ground, the better, I believe.”

According to Murphy, the contenders for next year’s variety release will be distributed across the country this spring for inclusion in national potato adaptation and demonstration trials. These trials are conducted by AAFC in collaboration with industry and grower groups in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, providing agronomic performance data from across different production areas and systems.

About 45 to 50 selections will be evaluated in this way, with comparisons made to standard reference varieties in order to gauge their performance for different end-uses. Samples of these selections are displayed for the benefit of growers and industry representatives during field days typically held in August.

spr15_newvarieties1 AR2015-01 French fry/fresh market. Oblong selection with russet skin, cream flesh, higher yield at some trial sites; good french fry scores; cold (7 C) storage potential; good boil and bake scores; low bruising potential; resistance to scab indicated.
spr15_newvarieties2 AR2015-02 French fry/fresh market. Long selection with russet skin, cream flesh, higher yield at some trial sites, good french fry scores; good boil and bake scores.
spr15_newvarieties3 AR2015-03 French fry/fresh market. Long selection with buff skin, cream flesh, good french fry scores; cold (7 C) storage potential; good boil and bake scores.
spr15_newvarieties4 AR2015-04 French fry market. Long selection with buff skin, cream flesh, higher yield at some trial sites, good french fry scores out of 7 C storage; good boil scores and fair bake scores; some late blight resistance.
spr15_newvarieties5 AR2015-05 Chip/fresh market. Oval selection with light yellow skin and flesh, moderate to high yield potential across all trial sites; good boil and bake scores, moderate chip scores; carries two copies of a marker associated with resistance to golden nematode.
spr15_newvarieties6 AR2015-06 Chip/fresh market. Round to oval selection with slightly flaky yellow skin, yellow flesh, good chip colour at 13 C storage, good boil and bake scores, resistance to scab indicated.
spr15_newvarieties7 AR2015-07 Fresh market. Round selection with uniform size, buff coloured skin and white flesh, moderate to high set and yield potential, low bruising scores; good boil and bake scores; carries one copy of a marker associated with resistance to golden nematode.
spr15_newvarieties8 AR2015-08 Fresh market. Oval to oblong selection with high set, uniform size, yellow skin and light yellow flesh; moderate to high yield; good boil and bake scores; carries two copies of a marker associated with resistance to golden nematode.
spr15_newvarieties9 AR2015-09 Fresh market. Round selection with uniform size, yellow skin and flesh, high set; good boil and bake scores; carries one copy of a marker associated with resistance to golden nematode.
spr15_newvarieties10 AR2015-10 Fresh market. Round to oval selection with red skin, light yellow flesh; moderate to high yields; good boil and bake scores; extreme resistance to potato virus X, wart resistance indicated.
spr15_newvarieties11 AR2015-11 Fresh market. Round selection with uniform size, buff coloured skin and light yellow flesh; moderate to high yield potential across most trial sites; good boil and bake scores; moderate resistance to scab.
spr15_newvarieties12 AR2015-12 Pigmented flesh/fresh market. Round to oval selection with uniform size, red skin and pink flesh; moderate to high yield; good boil and bake scores.
spr15_newvarieties13 AR2015-13 Pigmented flesh/french fry market. Oval to long selection with dark blue skin and dark purple flesh; moderate yield; good boil and bake scores, moderate french fry scores; moderate resistance to scab.
spr15_newvarieties14 AR2015-14 Fresh market. Round to oval selection, white skin, cream flesh, very good boil and bake scores, good appearance, some indication of resistance to potato virus Y and to potato virus X.
spr15_newvarieties15 AR2015-15 Fresh market. Oval selection, smooth dark red skin, white flesh, high yield across all trial sites; good boil and bake scores, good appearance.
spr15_newvarieties16 AR2015-16 Fresh market. Round selection with smooth red skin, cream flesh, high yield across all trial sites; good boil and bake scores; extreme resistance to potato virus Y.