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Renowned Researchers Join Speaker Program at WPC

Top potato researchers from Britain and the Netherlands have joined the speaker panel at the World Potato Congress 2012, set to take place in Edinburgh, Scotland from May 27–30. During his session, Glenn Bryan of the James Hutton Institute, Dundee, Scotland, will address exploitation of the potato genome and how new-found knowledge will ultimately impact production, nutritional qualities and consumer needs. Bryan, who led the U.K. arm of the research team that sequenced the potato genome, will explain how putting more science into the sector will make breeding programs more effective. Anton Haverkort of Plant Research International, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Holland, will discuss actions growers can take to cut down the carbon footprint of potato production as part of the industry’s sustainability agenda. The lead speaker on the first day, John Beddington, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser, will examine the global challenges of food security in the coming decades, and how policymakers can influence more sustainable intensification of agriculture with crops such as the potato.

Business News

Cibus Celebrates 10 Years of Pioneering Crop Trait Innovation

Cibus Global, a pioneering plant trait development firm, marked a major milestone in November 2011 when the company celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Founded in November 2001 by a team of scientists and agricultural biotechnology experts, the company has expanded significantly since establishing its headquarters and research facility in San Diego, opening offices in Minnesota in 2007 and the Netherlands in 2009. During the past 10 years, Cibus has forged eight partnerships, working in eight different crops to develop 12 unique and differentiated value-added plant traits. This was accomplished using its Rapid Trait Development System technology in co-operation with leading agricultural companies, such as NEU Seed, to develop potato crop protection and performance enhancement traits for North America. “The RTDS technology is uniquely versatile, and presents us with an untold number of potential agricultural and industrial applications,” says Peter Beetham, senior vice-president of research at Cibus, and one of its founders. Some of the projects in the Cibus pipeline include potatoes resistant to blackspot bruising, which costs the U.S. potato industry $170 million annually, and improved crop protection traits that will benefit farmers and the environment.

BASF Applies for EU Approval of a Disease-Resistant Potato

BASF Plant Science has applied for European Union approval for Fortuna, a genetically optimized table potato which represents the further development of one of Europe’s leading potato varieties for the production of french-fried potatoes. Fortuna has a wild potato’s natural protection to late blight, which is considered the most important potato disease in the world. The two resistance genes transferred to Fortuna come from a South American wild potato and were originally discovered by Dutch scientists. Despite more than five decades of intensive effort, plant breeders using conventional methods have not managed to cross both resistance genes jointly and successfully into an agronomically high-performing potato variety. BASF Plant Science started research efforts on the disease-resistant potato in 2003, and Fortuna has been tested in field trials for six years and subjected to extensive safety assessments. The application for approval covers commercial cultivation as well as use as food and feed within the EU. In the next step of the approval process, the European Food Safety Authority will assess the safety of Fortuna for humans, animals and the environment. Market introduction is expected for 2014/15.

J. R. Simplot Plans New Potato Processing Plant

The J. R. Simplot Company is planning to build a state-of-the-art potato processing plant in Caldwell, Idaho, with site preparation anticipated to begin next May and start-up expected by spring of 2014. The 380,000-square-foot plant, which will be built on the site of the company’s original processing plant in Caldwell, will help Simplot remain competitive in the food industry while providing significant environmental benefits, according to company president and CEO Bill Whitacre. The new plant will replace the company’s existing potato processing plant in Caldwell, Idaho, with additional closures of facilities at Aberdeen and Nampa, Idaho within the next two to three years, which will result in the loss of just under 800 jobs. “We struggled with this very difficult decision and we know the closures will have an impact on many of our employees and their families,” says Whitacre. “We will be doing what we can to ease the transition as it occurs, including providing separation packages, onsite counseling, out-placement services, and other forms of assistance. We are committed to providing transitional support for our employees, and we hope that making this announcement so far in advance of the closures will help them to adequately plan for their futures.” Most of the job losses will not occur until the closure of the three existing plants.

Industry News

Potato Rot Nematode Confirmed in Ontario

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed the presence of potato rot nematode in garlic from a two-acre farm field in the Ottawa region of Ontario. Potato rot nematode is a regulated quarantine pest in Canada that can damage and reduce harvest yields of potatoes and other crops. The affected farm does not produce potatoes or other plant material used for planting on other farms and is not in an area located near a seed potato production operation. In cooperation with international plant health guidelines, strict quarantine measures have been implemented on the affected property to prevent the spread of this pest. It spreads mainly through the movement of infested planting material and soil.

Potatoes are the Largest and Most Affordable Source of Potassium

A frequently-expressed concern in the ongoing public health debate is that fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are nutrient-dense, are not affordable for the average consumer. Research presented recently at the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo demonstrated that potatoes are one of the best sources of nutritional value in the produce department, providing significantly better nutritional value per dollar than most other raw vegetables. Per serving, white potatoes are the largest and most affordable source of potassium of any vegetable or fruit. “Potatoes deserve credit for contributing to higher diet quality and increasing vegetable consumption,” says lead researcher Adam Drewnowski from the University of Washington. “Potatoes also play an important role in providing affordable nutrition to Americans. You can afford to meet key dietary guidelines if you include potatoes in your diet.” Further analyses showed that putting potatoes on the plate improved overall diet quality. Individuals who consumed potatoes (baked, boiled and roasted) had higher intakes of potassium and vitamin C, and consumed more total vegetables in a day compared to those who did not consume potatoes.

Zebra Chip Finds Its Way into Idaho’s Potato Fields

A new potato pest has reached Idaho, according to University of Idaho Extension specialists with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The pest was also reported in Oregon and Washington. There are no known health safety or nutritional problems associated with zebra chip. Zebra chip is named for the dark bands that develop in potatoes infected by the bacteria that are carried by psyllids. The tiny cicada-like insects, which are related to aphids, are normally found in warmer regions. A threat to potato quality for growers and processors, zebra chip can reduce the value of both fresh and process potatoes. It particularly affects processed products such as french fries and potato chips by creating darker chips and fries. The presence of zebra chip in Idaho was confirmed by USDA Agricultural Research Service tests of samples from a potato processor. Although the pest was found in several fields, the number of plants infected initially appeared low. For growers, zebra chip does not pose the economic threats presented by some other pests because it does not lead to field quarantines or major trade disruption. It can add significantly to their costs of production, however. The potato disease was first detected in Mexico in 1994. Six years later, zebra chip was found in Texas. By 2007, it was found in California, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.

USDA Forecast: Global Demand for Frozen Potato Products Rises

The forecast for global demand for frozen potato products (comprised mostly of frozen fries) is up five per cent from last year, according a recent report by the USDA. The increase is due to strengthening economic growth from key importers and an expansion of fast food restaurants, especially in smaller markets such as Mexico and the Philippines. Over the past decade, total global exports have grown almost 50 per cent. In March 2009, Mexico, a key market for the United States, imposed a 20 per cent retaliatory tariff on U.S. frozen fries after the trucking dispute, which reduced competitiveness and accelerated the shift to Canadian products. However, in October 2011, the issue was resolved and the tariff was removed, which should boost U.S. shipments and make U.S. potatoes more competitive. The United States is the world’s largest potato importer, with almost all of its demand supplied by Canada. Forecasts for imports have increased by four per cent to 740,000 metric tonnes. Major companies have plants in both countries and are able to shift raw and finished supplies fairly easily, depending on exchange rates and supplies.

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