WERA027: Potato Variety Development
Statement of Issues and JustificationIn the last five years trends in consumer preferences, new environmental regulations, loss of crop-protection chemicals, increased input costs, new pest and disease pressures, as well as unpredictable growing conditions have increased the potato grower's risks and decreased his profits. New improved potato varieties are the most productive and cost effective manner to meet these challenging changing conditions and demands of the industry and the consumer. New varieties contain the promise of improved quality and marketability, increased yield, and increased sustainability by reducing inputs for disease and pest resistance and improved efficiency of fertility, water, management, etc. By improving sustainable production for the grower, at the same time reducing risk, increasing competitiveness, and improving environment quality the group of researchers and industry the WERA27 serves and represents is doing activities critical to providing healthy, inexpensive food supply for American consumers and our nation's food security.
The states represented by WERA27 (California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Texas) produce over two-thirds of all potatoes grown in the U.S. WERA27 is composed of a regionally-diverse interdisciplinary team of breeders, geneticists, physiologists, pathologists, agronomists, biotechnologists, entomologists, virologists, extension specialists, economists, growers, and other industry representatives. This team is crucial to U.S. potato variety development and in turn, sustainability of the U.S. potato industry. Their combined participation allows for complete testing of improved germplasm that comes from federal and state breeding programs. Coordinated activities include parental identification and germplasm enhancement, controlled crosses, seedling production, selection and evaluation, initial seed increase, complete in-field and post harvest management research, advanced field and laboratory evaluations, evaluating processing quality and culinary attributes, developing agronomic recommendations for specific growing regions, and screening for resistance or susceptibility to diseases using conventional and molecular marker approaches.
Russet Burbank, the predominant variety for many decades, both for processing and fresh markets, has been steadily declining as a result of the success of varieties developed and evaluated by participants of WERA27. New varieties from this region replacing Russet Burbank production include Ranger Russet, Umatilla Russet, Rio Grande Russet, Russet Nugget, Blazer Russet, Bannock Russet, GemStar Russet, Alturas, Premier Russet and Classic Russet,with newer varieties becoming more popular due to improved performance and quality.
Chipping varieties, fresh market red-skinned and specialty varieties (e.g., pigmented flesh), and fresh market white-skinned varieties similarly has shifted away from one or two dominant varieties to that of numerous varieties, each with improved adaptation to different growing, storage or processing conditions, or market preferences. New varieties from this region include Ivory Crisp, CalWhite, Mazama, Modoc, IdaRose, Willamette, and Defender and are bringing about additional changes. Yukon Gem, a more disease resistant and better yielding yellow-fleshed variety has increased in acreage in response to increased market demand; breeders in the western region have increased emphasis on yellow-flesh and other pigmented-flesh varieties. Private European seed companies have begun to export yellow-flesh varieties, which are common in Europe, to the U.S., facilitated by Plant Variety Protection (PVP) laws that protect their intellectual property rights.
Russet Burbank requires closer management, more fertilizer, water, and pesticides than are required for varieties such as Bannock Russet, Alturas, and GemStar Russet - recent releases from the Tri-State Potato Variety Development Program. The recent movement toward sustainability, more efficient use of fertilizers and irrigation, and less dependence on agricultural pesticides, adds urgency to the need for alternative varieties better adapted to low input production.
Russet Norkotah and its later maturing, higher yielding "bull" clonal selections are a new set of varieties out of the Texas and Colorado programs which have become the predominant fresh market varieties in many areas. Russet Norkotah is early maturing with very smooth dark russet-skinned tubers that have good storage characteristics. The tubers are resistant to most physiological disorders, resulting in a high percentage of U.S. No.1 grades. The early success of these newly introduced "bull" clones has been somewhat overshadowed, however, by controversy within the industry regarding the long-term sustainability of all Russet Norkotah clones. Russet Norkotah tubers can be less palatable than many other varieties when consumed as a baked potato, especially after being held in cold storage for long periods. Also it has been found to harbor potato virus Y without displaying symptoms making it a possible hidden inoculum source for more susceptible varieties. Combinations of disease and pest resistance factors are targeting particular use of pesticides with an aim to reducing or eliminating them. For instance, Columbia root-knot (CRKN) and Corky ringspot disease (CRS) are addressed with two fumigants, Telone and Vapam, applied separately and at different times. Vapam is also used to control Verticillium wilt. With a doubly CRKN and CRS resistant potato it would be possible to control Verticillium with a green manure such as mustard. The omission of Telone and Vapam applications would save money and contribute to the pesticide reduction that MacDonalds seeks for it French fry product.
New varieties need to be tested in key production areas and compared to the traditional varieties, which is one of the key strengths of the WERA27 cooperative project. Additionally, evaluation of germplasm from a range of sources under varying conditions offers the greatest probability of identifying superior varieties with improved pest resistance and reduced production inputs. Materials that are successful in the Northwest Tri-State (Washington, Oregon, Idaho) and the new Southwest Region (Texas, Colorado, California) variety evaluation programs, as well as material from other programs, are incorporated into the WERA27 evaluation scheme. Combining promising new genetic technologies and wild germplasm with traditional breeding efforts has resulted in superior new varieties.
Health issues including phytonutrition provided by antioxidants and other compounds in potatoes are being researched under the WERA27 program. The formation of acrylamides in fried potatoes has recently caused concern in the fast food industry and today new varieties are being developed that have lower sugars and thereby reduce the formation of this questionable potato frying by-product. Storage conditions, as well as genetic make up have been examined to reduce this aspect of concern.
Sustainability issues of increasing importance include late blight disease resistance, water-use efficiency, transgenic and other biotechnology breeding tools, plant variety protection and environmental impacts are an important component of the program. Western region breeders are active in addressing these issues. It is essential that they are discussed from many perspectives and that strategies are developed as a team. It is anticipated that new varieties will provide U.S. growers the ability to meet the challenges of a constantly changing market and production conditions, thereby maintaining and potentially improving their economic well being and reducing their risks. New varieties will help maintain a healthy, inexpensive food supply for American consumers and contribute to an improved environment.
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