New potato seeds could spark revolution

True Potato Seed technology Green fruit grows on potatoes and provides an alternative to seed potatoes

BRODERICK, Sask. — Research underway in Saskatchewan is part of a worldwide revolution in potato production, say officials at Tuberosum Technologies Inc.

At a recent open house at the company’s facility in Saskatchewan’s irrigation district near Broderick, TTI showcased its work with true potato seed (TPS) technology.

“True seed is basically a sexually produced seed, or the botanical seed in green tomato-like fruits on potato plants,” said company research and development manager Khyal Thakur.

The tiny fruit appears on mature potato plants, although not all current varieties produce them.

Instead of planting seed potatoes, or tubers with the eyes required to sprout a new plant, TPS uses the tiny seeds from inside these fruits.

The seed can be planted directly into the ground, grown in nurseries and then transplanted outside or grown to produce mini tubers, Thakur said.

“This tiny seed, which is not even weighing one milligram, has the potential to produce more than one pound of potatoes,” he said.

The impetus for this technology is the growing demand in the developing world.

Thirty million tonnes of potatoes were grown in developing countries in the early 1960s, but that had grown to 165 million tonnes by 2005, and production had surpassed that of the developed world, Thakur said.

Consumption of potatoes in non-traditional areas has been increasing for the last 20 years. Until the 1990s, Europe produced and consumed the most potatoes.

“In terms of production, China is now No. 1, producing 72 million tonnes of potatoes every year,” said Thakur.

“Then comes the Russian Federation and then India.”

However, growers in countries such as India can’t afford to buy seed tubers that might cost 25 or 30 cents each. They also reuse seed potatoes, which results in declining yields over time.

The International Potato Centre, headquartered in Lima, Peru, promotes TPS as an affordable way to boost production.

During his presentation, Thakur held up a small plastic bag containing 40 grams of seed. The tiny amount was enough to plant two acres.

He said farmers in northeastern India are producing 250 kilograms of seed a year, which they then sell to other farmers who either grow seedlings and transplant them or grow the tubers and save them to plant the following year.

Thakur said using good quality seed in just one Indian province has resulted in yields more than doubling from four tonnes per acre to nine.

TTI grows nearly 200 TPS hybrids and open-pollinated varieties in test plots to find those that will do well in climates around the world.

Thakur said only varieties that will grow within the province’s 90-day season are kept. Saskatchewan’s long days give the varieties an edge when they are grown in places with shorter days.

In three years of testing, two red hybrid varieties, three yellows and two whites are showing strong consistency.

“So far we don’t really see any yield depression,” said Joel Vanderschaaf, general manager of Tuberosum Technologies.

“In fact, there’s something to be said for the hybrid vigour.”

He said the use of TPS breeding eliminates the need for expensive cleaning and storage infrastructure.

Tubers are bulky and perishable and are expensive to transport.

TPS mitigates the risks that can come with tubers, he added. The seeds are disease-free and can be stored for years if kept dry.

Vanderschaaf said 100 grams of TPS would replace about three tonnes of lower grade seed potatoes in terms of cost.

He also said potato growers have to keep about 10 percent of harvested potatoes for seed next year, which TPS also eliminates.

The potential to reduce hunger and poverty by increasing the production and consumption of potatoes is huge, he added.

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