Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published June 14, 2012, 10:09 AM

Breeder aims to find a potato with potential

FARGO - The potential of a new potato could make area farmers big fries in the fast-food market. A new plant is being tested in plots near Larimore for the second consecutive year. The results from the first year of growing had potato growers’ eyes popping.

By: John Lamb, INFORUM

FARGO - The potential of a new potato could make area farmers big fries in the fast-food market. A new plant is being tested in plots near Larimore for the second consecutive year. The results from the first year of growing had potato growers’ eyes popping.

Susie Thompson, North Dakota State University potato breeder, said the second-year clone, known only as AFND 4405-1 Russ, has the potential for “tremendously high yield.”

She said that last year the potato yielded 777 hundredweight – or 777 100-pound sacks – per acre.

Normally the best irrigated fields in the region would struggle to exceed 600 bags in a good season, she said.

And last year wasn’t a great season for farmers because a long, wet spring pushed planting back weeks. With better conditions so far this year, this season’s harvest could be even bigger.

“Having this yield potential is the plus of this clone,” Thompson said.

North Dakota and Minnesota have a shorter growing season than potato hot beds like the Pacific Northwest and Idaho, so such a high-yielding variety would give growers a big boost.

“It would mean our growers could possibly compete better in the marketplace,” Thompson said, calling that possibility “exciting.”

She hopes this breed of Russets could become an option for french fry manufacturers as well as grocery store shoppers looking to make baked potatoes.

But there’s a long way to go before the new spud will supplant Russet Burbank, the No. 1 potato variety grown in the country and the favorite for french fry makers.

The Russet Burbank, however, has flaws, Thompson said. It is touchy to too much or too little water, it uses a lot of nitrogen and is susceptible to different diseases.

It’s still too early to know if AFND 4405-1 Russ has the same weaknesses; there are still many tests and evaluations to be done.

Thompson said from the time a plant is crossed, or pollinated, to when it is ready to be released is at least 10 years and for potatoes it’s often more than 15 years.

The initial harvest showed promise, though. Not only did it produce a bumper crop, the potatoes were all uniform, something french fry processors look for.

Thompson said a good potato for fries also needs to have low sugar accumulation and high starch, which makes for a whiter appearance and fries that don’t have a burnt or caramel taste.

Chuck Gunnerson of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, Minn., said the new potato could benefit North Dakota and Minnesota farmers if the potential is realized. However, he added, french fry processors may need to warm up to new variety.

“Processors and restaurants are unlikely to stray from Russet Burbank,” he said. “They just don’t like to vary because it worked so well for them over the years.”

“There are a lot of things we don’t know yet,” Thompson said. “It just takes time.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

Tags: