No couch potatoes among new varieties

Higher yields, longer shelf life among promised features

Fifteen new potato varieties developed by Agriculture Canada are officially ready for industry and producer testing.

Phase one of the federal accelerated release program provides varieties to growers for further testing.

In phase two, growers can bid to conduct an exclusive evaluation of a particular variety. That entitles them to additional seed and one to three years of evaluation to see if they want to take the next step in marketing the variety.

The 15 varieties were on display Feb. 12 at Agriculture Canada’s research centre in Lethbridge. Two new chip varieties show promise for higher yield, fewer internal defects, better storage and longer shelf life. One french fry variety and 12 suitable for the fresh market were also lined up.

“What is on show today are lines that are now going to be released into the industry so they can test them,” said Susan Smienk, a potato breeding research technician at the centre.

“They’re not named varieties at this stage.”

Western Canadian potato growers have expressed concern over federal changes that eliminated a western-based potato breeder. There used to be one breeder in Fredericton and another in Lethbridge, but now the national breeding program runs from Fredericton, headed by Benoit Bizimungu, who used to be based in Lethbridge.

“It’s operating in a little bit different model than traditionally, but essentially there’s a national breeding program that’s headed out of our Fredericton potato research centre,” said Agriculture Canada crop biologist Brian Beres.

“Nothing really changed from the adaptation side, nor from the breeding side for southern Alberta and Western Canada. So Benoit directs the staff here. The same staff complement exists on the support side.”

The breeding needs of growers in Eastern Canada differ from those in the West, where 70 percent of potato varieties are bred for french fries or potato chips. In the East, emphasis is on fresh market potatoes.

“As far as the activities and the targets and the objectives in Western Canada, that hasn’t changed,” Beres said.

Agriculture Canada potato breeders in Lethbridge have developed 21 potato varieties since 1964, most of them within the last decade.

Among them are AC Maple Gold, AC Glacier Chip, Alta Russet, Northstar, Starburst and AAC Alta Rose.

Alberta potato growers contract to a number of processors, including McCains, Cavendish, Lamb Weston, Hostess Frito-Lay and Old Dutch.

Potato Growers of Alberta executive director Terence Hochstein said in a recent report that increased national and international competition among processors is reducing profit margins. That is affecting grower contracts and putting pressure on the PGA negotiating committee to establish acceptable deals.