Several hands building Alberta’s potato industry
By Potatoes in Canada
June 3, 2014, Alberta – Alberta is taking a multi-stakeholder approach to advancing the potato industry, with a goal of enabling growers to have disease-free seed varieties available to deal with potential virulent diseases, a changing climate, greater processor demands and varied consumer needs.
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) and private seed companies are working together to ensure Alberta potato growers have the best seed varieties at their disposal to maximize their chances of success.
“The Alberta Seed Potato Repository has a collection of 300 unique potato varieties/lines maintained in tissue culture,” said Tina Lewis, research technologist at ARD. The mini plants, or “plantlets” stored in the repository (the only provincially run repository west of Ontario) are disease free because ARD closely adheres to the regulations set out by the CFIA.
These regulations include best lab management practices and annual lab testing of distributed varieties. The testing is for a number of viruses, viroids and bacterial ring rot. Any new varieties received by the laboratory must also go through a testing procedure before they can become part of the bank.
Of the 300 unique lines in the provincial bank, 75 per cent are private with the rest being public. The private varieties are newer imported varieties or recently developed ones through breeding in Canada, who have an owner or agent. Many of the private varieties have improved disease resistance, processing qualities or unique culinary characteristics. Permission must be received from the agent, prior to the release of these varieties to any private potato labs.
There are seven main private companies and another eight growers, companies or breeders that are agents of the private varieties that are maintained at the Crop Diversification Centre North (CDC North). The public varieties are older varieties such as Russet Burbank, Norland and include garden varieties that never had protection or are no longer protected and can therefore be requested and propagated by any nuclear seed grower.
Russet Burbank is still the #1 processing variety and other older public varieties continue to be important especially for seed purchased by home gardeners. Currently, the repository is run on a partial cost recovery basis. Growers or agents are charged a fee for the tissue culture plantlets they request which covers the cost of disease testing, supplies and some labour costs.