Traits and Genetics
Canada’s newest potatoes
By Trudy Kelly Forsythe
Breeders try to combine all of the positive attributes, including improved levels of disease and pest resistance, or, at the very least, without unacceptably high levels of susceptibility. Photo courtesy of AAFC.
One has dark pink flesh and red skin, making it rich in antioxidants and perfect for niche marketing. Another increases yields by as much as 35 per cent when compared with the industry standard Russet Burbank, which is good news for french fry processors. Several others offer particular disease and pest resistances.
By Trudy Kelly Forsythe
These are among the newest varieties Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) released in February to producers and the public at open houses in Fredericton, Guelph, Ont., and Lethbridge, Alta., as part of its national accelerated release program.
Researchers at AAFC’s Research and Development Centres use a combination of traditional crop breeding techniques, as well as emerging technologies, to bring new potato selections in french fry, chip and table varieties to the marketplace each year. This year’s potato breeding team released 16 potato selections.
Benoit Bizimungu, a potato breeder at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre and the national lead for the program, explains that the researchers utilize existing genetic diversity to improve productivity, disease resistance and yield potential of new varieties that will require fewer inputs than current varieties. This helps Canada’s potato industry become more competitive and sustainable.
The objectives of the new varieties are determined according to industry needs and the anticipated end use. “Each sector, be it processing french fries or chips or fresh market consumption, has specific traits that are considered essential for uptake,” says Agnes Murphy, a research scientist at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre. “Broadly speaking, these would be the shape and appearance of the tubers; internal composition and culinary qualities of the tubers, agronomic performance and yield potential across wide geographic locations.”
Preferably, breeders try to combine all of the positive attributes, including improved levels of disease and pest resistance, or, at the very least, without unacceptably high levels of susceptibility. Increasingly, the breeders target selections that will perform well with reduced agrochemical inputs and improved water use efficiency.
A potato breeding collection contains a wide number of parents that have been well characterized, both by phenotype – for example, physical appearance – and by genotype – for example, genetic composition that is determined molecularly – and are chosen according to their strengths and likelihood of producing progeny that have the desired characteristics.
Then, the parents are hybridized using classical methods of cross-fertilization of flowers. Murphy explains that if the cross combinations are successful, true potato seeds – what breeders call TPS – will be produced in small fruits.
“These TPS are collected and stored and from this inventory of seed, large numbers are grown out annually to produce potato plants,” she says. “Each seed produces a unique potato plant from which a small tuber is harvested.
“From then on, all multiplication of the tubers is done vegetatively to produce larger volumes of tubers to plant and evaluate each year. The most promising selections will be distributed for evaluation in a series of national trials if they survive four or five years of increasingly tough selection pressure.”
Then, early each year, AAFC’s accelerated release program releases potato selections to producers across the country to evaluate according to their particular requirements and market share.
“We need to reach out to all the industry wherever they are,” Bizimungu says. He explains any promising selection that comes from the Lethbridge selection stream, for example, is also evaluated in the rest of the country to see its potential across the country; the same goes for selections coming from the Fredericton selection stream. “Growers have the opportunity to look at them in every region.”
Researchers narrow down selections from more than 120,000 hybrid seedlings that were grown, tested and measured over six years in AAFC greenhouses, laboratories and fields under irrigation and rain-fed production systems. From the early generation selections, they whittle down to 40 to 50 by the fifth or sixth year.
“These are trialed at selected sites across the country where growers and industry representatives have an opportunity to see them and provide feedback at field days,” Murphy says. “The new selections are really unfinished cultivars that need up to five more years of industry evaluation to determine if they are worthy of licensing and registering as new cultivars.”
To identify the dozen or so that offer that promise as new accelerated releases, the researchers review the trial data and other relevant information.
“The entire process depends on the input and sustained teamwork within the breeding group and by many people across the country,” Murphy says. “As well, researchers at AAFC and other institutions are working behind the scenes to improve the selection processes and to further our understanding of this highly valuable world food crop.”
Bizimungu adds that the researchers also collaborate with breeders and gene banks in other countries for germplasm exchange.
At the end of all of the testing, or sooner at the request of the company, an eight-year, renewable license to commercialize a selection may be negotiated.
Since the inception of the program in 1998, 20 selections have been licensed, registered and named.
“It takes some time for new cultivars to have sufficient seed acreage to work their way into commercial markets,” Murphy says. “Some examples would be AAC Blue Steele, Alta Rose, Bayside Red, Bell Jade, Hilldale, Snowcrisp and Tenace.
“Others are undergoing seed multiplication and are expected to make it to market before too long.”
Detailed information about the 2016 selections is available here.