Plant Genetics
A genetically improved potato designed to have resistance to a devastating global plant disease has successfully come through the first year of field trials.

The field trial conducted by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich involves incorporating late blight resistant genes from a wild potato relative into a cultivated Maris Piper potato. READ MORE
Published in News
Researchers from Ohio State University and the Italian National Agency for New Technologies have developed a "golden" potato with significantly increased levels of vitamins A and E.

Findings from a new study were published recently in PLOS ONE in an article entitled "Potential of Golden Potatoes to Improve Vitamin A and Vitamin E Status in Developing Countries."

The research team found that a serving of the yellow-orange lab-engineered potato has the potential to provide as much as 42 per cent of a child's recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34 per cent of a child's recommended intake of vitamin E. For the full story, click here
Published in Technology
Examining the ancestors of the modern, North American cultivated potato has revealed a set of common genes and important genetic pathways that have helped spuds adapt over thousands of years.

Cultivated potatoes, domesticated from wild Solanum species, a genetically simpler diploid (containing two complete sets of chromosomes) species, can be traced to the Andes Mountains in Peru, South America.

Scientific explorer Michael Hardigan, formerly at MSU and now at the University of California-Davis, led the team of MSU and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University scientists. Together, they studied wild, landrace (South American potatoes that are grown by local farmers) and modern cultivars developed by plant breeders. For the full story, click here.
Published in Traits and Genetics
Representatives of the potato industry had a chance recently to view some potential new varieties that could someday find their way into Island fields.

Close to 50 industry representatives took the opportunity to take part in the annual Variety Day at Harrington Farm showcased potential entries for the Accelerated Release program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, variety trials conducted by the PEI Potato Board, as well as a tour of the organic potato acreage.

There was also a chance to view a soil building rotation trial being conducted in conjunction with the Enhanced Agronomy Initiative-- a fund established in 2016 by processing growers. READ MORE
Published in News
Chinese scientists will attempt to grow potatoes on the moon as part of a forthcoming lunar mission.
Published in Research
Whether its disease resistance, tolerance to stress in the environment or better cold-storage capabilities, research scientists have been incorporating wild potato genetic resources into breeding lines for years to develop more resilient potato varieties. At Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Fredericton Research and Development Centre, this practice is being increasingly refined in order to meet the needs of the industry which range from higher yields to disease and drought resistance.
Published in Traits and Genetics

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.

Published in Traits and Genetics

May 25, 2016, 2016, Canada – A newly approved, genetically modified potato will not be grown commercially in Canada this year.

JR Simplot, the company that created the Innate potato, said Canadian approval came too late for farmers to plant them this season. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved the potatoes in late March. | READ MORE

Published in News

April 28, 2016, Prince Edward Island – An Idaho-developed potato recently approved for consumption by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency hasn’t been met with approval by some Islanders. | READ MORE

Published in Traits and Genetics

March 31, 2016, Canada – The organization that represents Canada’s major grocery chains says it has full confidence in selling genetically engineered foods that have been approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. | READ MORE

Published in News

March 22, 2016, Canada – Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have approved a genetically engineered potato for sale, said a U.S.-based company on Monday in announcing that its non-browning spuds could be in Canadian supermarkets by Thanksgiving. | READ MORE


Published in Traits and Genetics


Although many consumers aren’t aware of it, potatoes have a lot of good things going for them when it comes to human nutrition. For instance, potatoes contain vitamin C, minerals, fibre, protein and bioactive compounds, plus they help provide a feeling of fullness that discourages overeating. Now an Ontario project is identifying some especially healthy potato cultivars that could help win back health-conscious consumers.

The perception that potatoes are not a healthy food choice has resulted in decreased potato consumption and production in Canada, notes Reena Pinhero, a researcher in the department of food science at the University of Guelph. She is leading this project along with Rickey Yada, dean of the faculty of land and food systems at the University of British Columbia.

Pinhero explains the potato’s bad reputation is based on two factors and she puts those two factors in perspective: “Potatoes are generally considered as a carbohydrate-rich food contributing to high calorie intake and causing weight gain. The fact is a potato is mostly water, so if you don’t eat too many, then you will not take in too many carbohydrates or calories.

“The second bad reputation is their high glycemic index reported by some studies. However, potatoes are not that dense, so the glycemic load from an average serving of potatoes is actually not more than any other carbohydrate food.” Potatoes tend to have low-medium to high glycemic loads, with the exact value depending on things like the food preparation method, the cultivar and where the potatoes were grown.

The project, which runs from 2014 to 2017, could help boost potato’s health reputation. “The project’s overall objective is to identify early maturing, coloured potato varieties with health benefits (low glycemic index and glycemic load, and high phytochemical antioxidants) and acceptable sensory qualities, that are affordable, accessible to low- and middle-income families, provide a price premium to growers, reduce importation, and provide retailers with local food,” Pinhero explains.

The project focuses on cultivars that are both early maturing and coloured because both traits tend to be associated with enhanced nutritional attributes.

“Early maturing potato cultivars usually have a lower dry matter and low glycemic index due to a different starch structure. So early potatoes may be good candidates for low glycemic load foods,” Pinhero says.

“Potatoes generally contain many phytochemicals, such as various polyphenols, flavonols, anthocyanins, carotenoids, vitamins, et cetera. Coloured varieties, especially based on their flesh or skin colour, contain substantially higher amounts of these phytochemicals. These phytochemicals, which act as antioxidants, have [been linked to] many health benefits, such as providing anti-inflammatory effects and protection from cardiovascular diseases, many cancers and diabetes.”

According to Pinhero, early potatoes receive a premium price compared to late maturing varieties, but in Ontario at present, early fresh market potatoes are limited to white varieties. “The red and yellow varieties currently grown in Ontario don’t mature until September, creating a need for imports.”

Along with Pinhero and Yada, this collaborative project brings together several other researchers with diverse expertise, including Qiang Liu, Rong Cao and Benoit Bizimungu with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), and Alan Sullivan and Andreas Boecker from the University of Guelph. The project’s industry partner is Grand Bend Produce based in Grand Bend, Ont.

The researchers are currently testing 14 varieties, including two advanced lines developed by AAFC’s Fredericton Research and Development Centre. Four of the varieties have coloured flesh and skin, five have either coloured skin or flesh, and the rest have either white or creamy skin and flesh colour.

They are evaluating each variety for protein, total starch, various starch fractions, available carbohydrates, total polyphenols, anthocyanins, flavonols and antioxidant potential.

“The various starch fractions – such as rapidly digestible starch, slowly digestible starch and resistant starch – are evaluated to estimate the glycemic index and glycemic load. The total starch and starch fractions, especially the slowly digestible and resistant starch, are very important as they affect human health by reducing the glycemic load. For example, resistant starch acts as a fibre,” Pinhero explains.

Once the researchers have identified which of the varieties have the best nutritional qualities, they will conduct a sensory analysis of those varieties for consumer acceptance. As well, they are conducting marketing studies in collaboration with Boecker.

So far, they are making good progress on the nutritional analyses. “We have analyzed the various starch fractions and the estimated glycemic index and glycemic load. We have identified 11 varieties that have low-estimated glycemic load, and three that have medium-estimated glycemic load,” Pinhero says.

The data from the project’s first year show Purple Fiesta, Carling Ford, Ciklamen, French Fingerlings, Red Thumb and Yellow Star had the lowest values for estimated glycemic index and glycemic load. Next, the researchers will be repeating the analysis of starch, glycemic index and glycemic load, but with fewer varieties and different cooking methods, and they’ll be conducting the phytochemical analysis.

Multiple benefits
“We are excited that this research will bring out potato’s many healthy characteristics so the consumer can make an informed decision of a healthier food choice and the industry will also benefit from it,” Pinhero says.

She sees many potential benefits from the project for growers, retailers and consumers. Ontario growers will have more choices for early maturing cultivars, along with more opportunities for obtaining the premium price for early potatoes. And, at the same time, they’ll have more choices for nutritionally superior cultivars desired by health-conscious consumers. Retailers will have access to a greater variety of locally produced early potatoes and those varieties will be more nutritious. “Availability of [local] early maturing, coloured potatoes with health-promoting bioactives, high antioxidant potential, and low glycemic index and glycemic load, would benefit the table potato market, potentially expanding the [Ontario] market by $6.6 million,” Pinhero says.

The information resulting from the project could be used in efforts to educate the public about the nutritional value of potatoes. Such efforts could contribute to an improved health reputation for potatoes and to increased potato consumption in Canada over time.

Consumers will benefit from more nutritious, low-cost food options. “A recent study on vegetable cost metrics in the United States shows that potatoes and beans provide the most nutrient value, thereby providing affordable, healthy vegetables for low- and middle-income families,” she notes. “Along with lifestyle changes, these healthy potatoes could be part of a variety of healthier food choices for prevention of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and several forms of cancer.”

Funders for this project include the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Potato Cluster 2 of the AgriInnovation Program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Ontario Potato Board.




Published in Traits and Genetics


A potato extract that’s rich in beneficial compounds is looking very promising. In trials with mice, researchers at McGill University have found that this extract reduces weight gain and provides other important health benefits. Now, they hope to conduct clinical trials to see if the extract produces similar benefits in people.

In this research, Danielle Donnelly, a potato researcher in McGill’s department of plant science, has teamed up with Stan Kubow and Luis Agellon, who are both at McGill’s school of dietetics and human nutrition. The research had its beginnings in Donnelly’s research on genetic improvement of Russet Burbank, the number one processing cultivar in Canada.

Because Russet Burbank has limited fertility, traditional breeding techniques aren’t effective for developing improved lines. So, about 10 years ago, Donnelly and her research group developed a technique using tuber tissue to propagate plantlets that can differ genetically from the original tuber. These variants, called somaclones, can then be grown in the field and screened for various traits. Donnelly has produced about 800 Russet Burbank somaclones.

“I had been screening my somaclones of Russet Burbank for yield and processing characteristics after long-term storage, and doing the selections and realizing that the somaclone technology could be very helpful there,” Donnelly explains. “Then, in talking to Stan Kubow, I realized that we should also be looking at nutritional parameters because the processing industry, and the whole potato industry, needs to be more concerned about the health of their consumers.”

Donnelly and Kubow started collaborating on potato nutrient research. In one part of this research, they examined the mineral content of 16 cultivars, including chippers, fryers and table stock, grown at five locations. “We found there was a lot of variation between the cultivars. Potatoes are not created equal for minerals! Russet Burbank and Yukon Gold were particularly good,” Donnelly says.

They determined that one serving per day of Russet Burbank, Yukon Gold or Freedom potatoes provides a significant portion of the recommended daily intake for magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, iron, selenium and zinc.

In another part of their nutritional studies, Donnelly and Kubow determined the antioxidant levels in her top 25 somaclones that were best for yield and processing traits. In potatoes, antioxidant activity comes from vitamin C, a number of polyphenolics and other compounds. Out of the 25 somaclones, they selected the four that had the highest antioxidant activity plus a range of polyphenolic compounds.

From this screening and selection work, Donnelly currently has four advanced lines moving toward registration. She hopes to register the best one or two of those lines later this year. “All four lines have high yield, three of them do better than the Russet Burbank control in fry tests, and all have very high protein and high antioxidant capacity,” she notes.

Fat-fighting extract
In a different aspect of the potato nutrient research, Agellon, Kubow and Donnelly investigated the effects of potato polyphenols on diet-induced obesity. The possibility that eating polyphenols might control obesity may seem surprising, but obesity actually has a connection with inflammation. Research has shown that obesity results in low-grade chronic inflammation due to the reaction of certain cells to excess nutrients and energy.

As a first step, Kubow and Donnelly grew 12 different potato cultivars for several growing seasons and compared their polyphenolic contents. They found that Onaway and Russet Burbank had higher and more consistent polyphenol levels than the other cultivars.

Next, using these two cultivars, the researchers made an extract containing a mixture of potato polyphenols. “The extract concentrates the active ingredients, making it more likely to see the biological effects we were interested in,” Kubow explains. One dose of the extract has about 30 times the amount of polyphenols found in a single potato. The main polyphenol in the extract is chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to have anti-obesity effects in some situations.

Then the researchers conducted a feeding trial with mice to evaluate the effect of the extract. “The mice were fed a diet that is similar to what many North Americans consume; it is high in calories, high in fat, and high in sugar content. We wanted to see if these polyphenols, when given to mice that are ingesting this high-fat diet, would help in preventing obesity,” Agellon says.

One group of mice was fed just the high-fat diet. A second group was fed the high-fat diet plus the potato extract. And a third group was fed the high-fat diet plus an equivalent amount of a purified single polyphenol, either chlorogenic acid or ferulic acid.

“We were intrigued by a number of studies that tested single polyphenols reported to be active in some systems but that were not as effective when used in a purified form; it seems that the purified compound had lost its potency,” Agellon explains. “We wondered if the desirable effect associated with a food like potato and the polyphenols that it contains, is because of a combination of the different compounds in the food.”

Their hypothesis was that each individual polyphenolic compound produces a small benefit for a particular area of the body, like the liver, but multiple polyphenols ingested together affect multiple pathways, producing a synergistic effect with major health benefits.

Agellon says the extract’s benefits emerged quite quickly in the trial. “Midway through the 10-week study, we could see which of the groups had received the polyphenol extract. They had less weight gain and were much more active than the mice receiving the high-fat diet by itself.”

Kubow adds, “This effect wasn’t because the mice didn’t like the diet and didn’t eat it. They were eating as much or more of the high-fat diet [as the other groups of mice]. Normally, mice respond just like humans – if they eat a lot of fat, they gain a lot of body fat and body weight. But to our surprise, the extract had quite remarkable potency in inhibiting that, regardless of how much they ate.”

The individual polyphenols were not quite as effective as the extract in reducing weight gain, suggesting synergistic benefits from the mix of polyphenols in the extract.

The researchers are excited by the extract’s potential human health benefits. Agellon notes, “The extract could be a wonderful tool to help people suffering from obesity.” To move forward on this, they need to conduct clinical trials to assess the extract’s fat-fighting effect in people. “We’ve got a lot of data supporting this effect in animal trials and in some culture trials, but clinical trials are the key, critical step toward commercialization,” Kubow says.

Pollution protection
The researchers have also looked at the extract’s effect on another inflammation-related health problem: lung damage caused by air pollution. Kubow explains, “Inflammation is your immune system overreacting to various compounds, including pollutants. With air pollution, that overreaction causes damage in various tissues including the lungs. So our hypothesis was that the extract might be effective where people are overweight and exposed to pollutants at the same time.”

In this study, they fed two groups of mice a western-style diet, similar to the diet in the obesity trial but not quite as high-fat. For four weeks, one group was fed the high-fat diet, and the other group was fed the high-fat diet plus the extract. Then the mice were exposed to ozone for four hours, to replicate the effects of exposure to heavy smog. “We looked at their lungs 24 hours after that exposure because the body is continually overreacting with the inflammatory response. That allowed us to detect factors in the lungs associated with ozone damage and inflammation,” Kubow explains.

The results showed that the mice eating the potato extract had significantly less lung damage. “We think this study was an important first step to validate the use of this extract as a means of potentially having a supplement to combat air pollution, which would be the first such supplement,” Kubow says. “However, we need clinical trials for verification of the benefit in humans.”

Clinical trials are key
The researchers are currently seeking funding for clinical trials to see how well the extract fights obesity and lung damage in people. If those trials prove the extract’s effectiveness, then the extract could have commercial potential, for instance, as a dietary supplement or a cooking ingredient. So investment in the trials could be of interest not only to health agencies but also to the potato industry because of the extract’s value-added potential.

Donnelly sees a couple of ways the next steps in this research could help potato growers and processors. “First, there are the clinical trials, which would get a product out there. Secondly [with information on polyphenol levels in more cultivars] it could be that more potato growers could benefit because there is a lot of wasted potatoes – people growing small potatoes have big ones they can’t use, and big potato growers have little ones they don’t always know what to do with. It may be that some of these materials could be rescued from waste streams from processed potatoes. So there is a lot of potato that could be used for a product that no one has produced up until now, which is this extract.”

As well, a potato extract with proven health benefits might help enhance the health reputation of potatoes. Kubow says, “The public perception is that potato intake is bad for your weight, but we’re talking about potato decreasing the risk of overweight and obesity.”


Published in Research

February 23, 2016, West Prince, PEI – A West Prince potato farmer is hoping a new variety of spud with distinctive pink markings will be a big hit in Island stores, and eventually make its way to the U.S.

Johnny MacLean, from West Devon, bought the exclusive North American rights for the seed. But the potatoes didn't have a name – just a number. So he dubbed them Smilin' Eyes Irish Gold. READ MORE

Published in News

February 12, 2016, Fredericton, NB – Bright pink and purple are the hot new fashion colours for Spring 2016, for potatoes.

Every year the federal government releases new kinds of potatoes to the marketplace: the spuds that eventually end up sprouting in our gardens, turning golden in our deep fryers and mushed under our mashers.

This year, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has released 16 new kinds of potatoes, including one that may be better than the current standard French fry potato, the Russet Burbank. READ MORE

Published in Research

January 14, 2015, Boise, ID – The Food and Drug Administration says a potato genetically engineered to resist late blight is as safe as any other potato on the market.

In a recent letter to Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co., the FDA says the potato isn't substantially different in composition or safety from other products already on the market, and it doesn't raise any issues that would require the agency to do more stringent premarket vetting.

The company says the potato must next be cleared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before it can be marketed to consumers. That's expected to happen in December.

The Russet Burbank Generation 2 is the second generation of Simplot's Innate brand potatoes. It includes the first version's reduced bruising.

Published in News


A recent project has corrected misinformation and filled information gaps about the origins of Russet Burbank. It provides crucial genetic information for potato breeders, along with a remarkable tale about how Russet Burbank has come to be a global success.

“Russet Burbank is now the most important potato cultivar in the world. It is the number one processing cultivar in Canada, the United States and the Netherlands, which are the top three frozen French fry-producing countries. It is number one in Europe, North America, and Australia and New Zealand, and it’s right up there in parts of India and China,” says Danielle Donnelly, associate professor in the plant science department of McGill University. “I find it astonishing that a cultivar with origins in the 1890s could still be so important today.”

Donnelly’s research usually focuses on genetic improvement of potato cultivars, but during a sabbatical a couple of years ago at the Potato Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), she started putting together the story of Russet Burbank. She soon brought in others to help her with the project, including people from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), McGill, AAFC and McCain Foods Canada Ltd. She notes, “It took a big team to pull all the information together.”

Russet Burbank comes from a line of important cultivars with beginnings in the 1850s. At that time, the potato industry was reeling from the disastrous impacts of late blight, which resulted in the devastating Irish Potato Famine, lasting from 1845 to about 1851. Many of the potato varieties at the time were susceptible to late blight, so breeders and botanists were scouting in South and Central America for potato lines that might have late blight resistance. Rough Purple Chili was one of several South American genotypes brought to the U.S. through the Panamanian Embassy. The amateur botanist C.E. Goodrich tested these lines and selected Rough Purple Chili (released in 1851). The cultivar was thought to have come from Chile (which was spelled “Chili” at the time).

Rough Purple Chili was the parent of Garnet Chili (released in 1857). And from Garnet Chili came Early Rose (released in 1867). These cultivars are very important in North American potato genetics. “In the 1990s, Dr. Stephen Love looked at the genealogy of the top 44 cultivars in the U.S. at the time. He found that Garnet Chili and Early Rose were in the ancestry of all [of] them,” Donnelly says. “It is amazing how small the genetic base is.”

From Early Rose came Burbank (released in 1876), which was named after its breeder, Luther Burbank. As a young man, he made a selection from Early Rose plants in his mother’s garden and came up with Burbank. Then from Burbank came Russet Burbank (released in 1902).

According to Donnelly, the cultivar Burbank was a noticeable improvement over its progenitors. “Garnet Chili is a small, roundish red potato; it is sort of smushed in, almost pointy on one side. Early Rose was considered prettier, with its pinkish colour, and it is longer, bigger and easier to peel than Garnet Chili. Burbank is even bigger and nicer looking than Early Rose, and it could be used for both baking and boiling.”

Luther Burbank sold his Burbank cultivar to a seed company, Messrs. Gregory and Son, but the company let him keep some. Donnelly says, “He went to southern California and started propagating and distributing the cultivar there. A very early USDA, which was just being formed in those days, started promoting the cultivar to all of the potato-growing areas in the U.S. Within just a few years, Burbank was being grown from Mexico all the way up to Alaska.”

Over the following years, various people noted some Burbank tubers had a russet skin. An incorrect but well-known account attributed the discovery of this russeted type to Louis D. Sweet, a Colorado potato grower, in 1914. However, the USDA’s Paul Bethke, who was one of Donnelly’s collaborators on the project, worked with several librarians to look through early U.S. seed catalogues. They determined Russet Burbank was probably originally released in 1902 as May’s Netted Gem by L. L. May & Co. The names Netted Gem and Russet Burbank were often used interchangeably for this cultivar during the next few decades.

Genetic relations
“Over the years, many people have tried to figure out the relationships between Rough Purple Chili, Garnet Chili, Early Rose and Burbank. The breeders of these cultivars each thought the cultivar they had grown in their garden or field had [self-pollinated] and that they were collecting seeds that were ‘selfed’ or inbred,” Donnelly says.

“But all the [genetic] evidence shows these cultivars were actually pollinated from outside. Potatoes are bee pollinated, which tells us those bees really got around, no matter how isolated the breeders thought their fields were. So Garnet Chili, Early Rose and Burbank are hybrids. That was shown in the 1990s through isoenzyme work, and then it was shown again and again through genetic studies and very sophisticated molecular studies.

“These same molecular genetic studies find no difference between Burbank and Russet Burbank, even though the skin is shockingly different. So Russet Burbank is a ‘sport,’ or a mutation, of Burbank,” Donnelly adds.

Thus, as a result of the information brought together in this project, seed companies and germplasm repositories can correct their information on Russet Burbank and its progenitors.

“Breeders need to know how these particular cultivars were produced because the cultivars have been so successful,” Donnelly explains. “If breeders mistakenly thought these cultivars were selfed, they might continue to self them to try to find improvements, when really the breeders should be finding out what the male parent was from the pollen coming in. That is really critical information for a breeder.”

Lucky turns in the path to success
During the early 1900s, Russet Burbank gradually replaced Burbank in popularity. One reason was because people tended to prefer its russeted skin to the thin skin of Burbank. “When Russet Burbank first came along, people were still recalling the Irish famine, and they assumed a potato with a thicker skin would more likely resist late blight. That thicker skin probably does help protect the tuber against a number of bacterial and fungal issues,” Donnelly says.

Another important factor in Russet Burbank’s early success was that Idaho started to promote the cultivar during this same period. She notes, “People in Idaho were trying to find something that would really identify their state and their potatoes. Russet Burbank was a nice-looking potato that grew well for their growers, so they made the cultivar their signature potato, increasing its fame and widespread use.”

As well, the railways publicized the cultivar. “The stories go that some Russet Burbank tubers were so big that they caused problems for the growers because people didn’t want to buy potatoes that were as big as your head. However, someone who was procuring food for the new railways at the time heard about these big potatoes and started serving them on the railway and heavily promoting them as a special treat,” Donnelly says.

A further boost to Russet Burbank’s prominence came in the 1940s, with the growth of fast-food franchises in the U.S. “Who would have known those fast-food franchises would take off like a rocket? Those franchises are fuelled by French fries and burgers. So French fries took off, and frozen French fries became important to distribute to restaurants and to the army during the war,” Donnelly says. “The big, blocky Russet Burbank tubers are perfect for frozen French fries because there is not too much waste, the fries are long, and you can make them in different widths depending on your interest. Plus they have a great taste and fry beautifully, and the tubers store very well.”

The combination of certain traits that make Russet Burbank especially suited to French fry production is another lucky happenstance. Xiu-Qing Li, an AAFC researcher involved in the project, pointed out Burbank and Russet Burbank have “the most extraordinary collection of recessive traits,” Donnelly says. “Such a combination of recessive traits is unlikely to happen very often, and yet all of those characteristics – the tuber’s elongated, blocky shape, large size, very shallow eyes and not very pronounced eyebrows – help make the tuber particularly valuable in the frozen French fry industry.”

A further reason for Russet Burbank’s ongoing success is familiarity. “When people taste French fries in one of the many franchises, they develop a sensory image of what a French fry should be like. Russet Burbank has set a standard for French fry taste and texture,” Donnelly explains. “And then there’s the accumulated expertise in growing, storing, processing, transporting and cooking Russet Burbank French fries, ensuring a very reliable, very delicious product.”

Russet Burbank’s excellent storage qualities are also very important. “I visited Cavendish Farms one summer in July. They had mountains of [Russet Burbank] potatoes to process and they had done their million pounds and more for that day,” Donnelly says. “[Processors] need tubers that store extremely well because they have to be able to process them until the next crop comes in, in the fall.”

These days, the vast majority of frozen French fries in the U.S. and Canada are made with Russet Burbank.

Looking back to the origins of Russet Burbank, Donnelly thinks of Luther Burbank. “His cultivar Burbank was his first discovery, and it turned out to be his most enduring and most important one. However, he is credited with introducing between 800 and 1000 plants to American horticulture, which is hugely impressive. Although he won some awards, he did not receive the respect of his plant breeding peers because he was very unconventional – he wasn’t a scientist, [and] he used intuition and logic and experience to make his decisions,” she says.

“When Luther Burbank produced his cultivar, there was no such thing as plant breeders’ rights and no royalty stream. These days, if he produced such a remarkably popular cultivar, he would be a very wealthy man. And when his cultivar Burbank mutated to become Netted Gem, or Russet Burbank, that would have belonged to him as well because today if you own a cultivar and register it under your name and it mutates, you are owner of that mutation, even if someone else finds it. If Luther Burbank were alive today, the knowledge that his potato cultivar is the most important in the world would make a big difference to his success as a breeder and to the respect he got as a breeder.”





Published in Traits and Genetics

Oct. 27, 2015 - Genesys, a resource for plant genetic resources data, has been improved and updated to help people develop climate-smart crop varieties needed to overcome future environmental challenges. Scientists will benefit from improved access to data on more than 2.8 million plant samples from genebank collections from all over the world.

Genesys users can search the global holdings of 446 institutes around the world. Genesys includes three of the world's largest networks: the EC/PGR, the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) of the United States Department of Agriculture, and the CGIAR genebanks, which together hold the most important crop diversity collections in the world.

Genesys brings genebanks together, making passport and characterization data available by using - and reinforcing - established standards for data exchange in the genebank community. Data providers can easily sort and display the information they hold, compare their collection with those held in other genebanks. This allows them to avoid duplication and focus their resources and efforts in filling gaps in their collections.

Genesys also lets breeders know which genebanks hold the seed varieties that might have the traits they need to develop the crops that will feed the world in the future. 

New features include video tutorials, as well as the recently launched newsletter and @GenesysPGR Twitter account. 

Published in Traits and Genetics

Oct. 22, 2015 – The Little Potato Co. plans to introduce its newest proprietary creamer potato at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Atlanta.

The grower-shipper plans to roll out the Chilean Splash variety as a limited release specialty item late this year in the U.S. and Canada.

The variety is to be packed in new 1.5-pound gusset bags.

It follows five years of scaled planting, harvesting and tasting and the company says the variety has unique and bold attributes, according to a news release.

The company also plans to display improvements to its microwave and oven/grill-ready packs that combine creamers with seasoning mixes.

The new “Three Cheese” flavor which combines the creaminess of cheddar, the sharpness of romano and the nutty richness of parmesan joins the existing line-up of barbecue blend, garlic herb and onion medley offerings.

Published in News

Sept. 2, 2015, Delta, BC – Farmers gathered at Brent Kelly Farms last Thursday for the annual B.C. Potato Variety Trial Field Day to see new varieties that have been grown in a test field. The goal is to see if any could become a viable crop in Delta. The Delta Optimist reports. | READ MORE

Published in Markets and Marketing
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