World Review, Potato News Spud Smart Fall 2010

“Treating potatoes with ultrasound or electricity for 5–30 minutes increased the amounts of antioxidants considerably, including phenols and chlorogenic acid.”

Western European Potato Crop Down

The North-Western European Potato Growers, representing the five leading potato-producing countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain and Holland), has estimated that the total ware potato harvest could be two million tonnes less than last season. The estimate was made at a meeting of the NEPG held during Potato Europe 2010 in Hanover, Germany. The total 2010 production is estimated at 22,872,000 tonnes, which includes early harvested potatoes. Compared to last year, Belgium is the only country of the five with a 5.4 per cent expected increase in crop, however, this reflects the increase in planted area of 9.2 per cent. Average yield for the NEPG countries is estimated at 42.9 tonnes per hectare compared to 46.8 t/ha last season, a decrease of 8.3 per cent. This yield is comparable to the 2006 season when droughts were experienced in the NEPG countries and the average yield was 42.6 t/ha.

Indian Scientists Develop Protein-Rich Potato Variety

A genetically engineered, protein-enriched potato is being readied for commercial fieldtesting in India, scientists reported this summer. Developed by researchers at the National Centre for Plant Genome Research at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the ”protato” has up to 60 per cent more protein than regular potatoes. Scientists successfully combined genes from the amaranth plant with those of the potato. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists explain that the injection of the Amaranth Albumin 1 gene helps potatoes develop high amino acid and protein levels, including high levels of lysine, tyrosine and sulphur. They claim the genetically modified crop will be safe for human consumption.

Global Campaign to Preserve Native Andean Potato Varieties

From October 1, 2010, potato enthusiasts canjoin a global campaign  launched by the Roots for Life Foundation to secure the conservation of native potato varieties held in trust at the world collection of the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. These native varieties possess characteristics that hold answers to the global challenges we face—from food security to climate change, says a representative from the Roots for Life Foundation. The organization aims to secure this extraordinary potato biodiversity for future generations. It will take USD$21,175,000 to guarantee all 4,235 potato varieties for future generations.

New Ways of Boosting Healthful Antioxidant Levels in Potatoes

In August, Japanese scientists reported the  discovery of two simple, inexpensive ways of boosting the amount of antioxidants in potatoes. One involves giving potatoes electric shock and the other involves ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves). These new insights into improving the nutritional content of potatoes were reported at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, Mass. “We found that treating potatoes with ultrasound or electricity for 5–30 minutes increased the amounts of antioxidants considerably, including phenols and chlorogenic acid,” said Kazunori Hironaka, who headed the research. Hironaka indicates the process could have widespread commercial application due to growing consumer interest in “functional foods.” The ultrasound treatment consisted of immersing whole potatoes in water and subjecting them to ultrasound for 5 or 10 minutes. For the electrical treatment, the scientists immersed potatoes in a salt solution for 10 seconds and then treated them with a small electrical charge for 10, 20 and 30 minutes. Five minutes of ultrasound increased polyphenol levels by 1.2 times and other antioxidants by about 1.6 times.

World Record Set For Longest French Fry Cooking Marathon

In early September, a 53-year-old french fry maker from the Belgian village of Kastel, spent 83 consecutive hours frying chips and serving 15,000 portions of the dish—setting a new world record for the longest french fry cooking marathon. “My fingers are burnt, my feet are sore and my wrist is painful,” said Chris Verschueren. “But it doesn’t matter—I’m going to party now.” Record adjudicators allowed him to take a 100-minute break after 20 hours, but other than that he worked straight through. Although he couldn’t reach his goal of selling 1,500 bags of french fries, considered the national Belgian dish, Verschueren managed to break the old Guinness World Record for non-stop french fry making—72 hours—set in 1987 by a British cook.

U.S. Frozen Potato Exports to Mexico On the Rise

The cancellation by the U.S. government of the NAFTA-mandated pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to operate in the United States had serious repercussions forseveral U.S. export commodities to Mexico when the Mexican government implemented a series of retaliatory tariffs. In early 2009, the tariff on frozen potatoes imported from the United States escalated, giving an advantage to Canadian products. During the U.S. Potato Boards’ July 2009–June 2010 marketing year, U.S. exports to Mexico dropped by 41 per cent to 45,301 metric tonnes. In August of this year the Mexican government changed the size and scope of commodities subject to retaliatory tariffs. The tariff for frozen potato products dropped from 20 per cent to five per cent. The preliminary data following the tariff reduction indicates that U.S. frozen potato exports have regained some market share as a result. In August 2009,  exports were down 55 per cent from the previous August as a result of the initial tariff. In August 2010, exports were down only 29 per cent when compared to August 2008. The U.S. Potato Board stepped up its marketing campaign in Mexico and conducted regular trade contact with Wendy’s restaurant in Mexico to persuade them of the benefits of using U.S. frozen potatoes. In July 2009, Wendy’s switched from Canadian to U.S. fries, even though Canadian fries offered a huge price advantage at the time. A total of454 metric tonnes in new sales of U.S. frozen potatoes were gained during the USPB’s July 2009–June 2010 marketing year. Domino’s Pizza in Mexico introduced a “U.S. Potato Soccer Ball” product in June 2010, which was a huge hit with customers due to the popularity of the FIFA World Cup. Offered in nearly 600 outlets, the promotions exceeded expectations. Domino’s went through 6,500 boxes of this product, equating to nearly 60 metric tonnes, during the month of June alone. The USPB is confident that frozen potato exports to Mexico will recover.

Lukie Pieterse
Industry Consultant and Writer