Rival might be on the way for Russett Burbank potato

The Russet Burbank has long been the king of potatoes. It’s the most widely grown variety in North America.

Also known as the netted gem, it is loved for its shape, flesh colour, shallow eyes, storability and excellence in baking and french fries.

A new variety presented earlier this month by Agriculture Canada for accelerated release could rival the mighty Russet Burbank if field performance and quality evaluations pan out over the next two years.

At the moment, the up-and-comer has a bland name: AR 2018-02. That might change should the variety be selected for commercialization in the future.

Benoit Bizimungu, Agriculture Canada’s chief potato breeder, said researchers have been seeking a good replacement for Russet Burbank, one that has the storage capability required by producers and processors but also requires fewer inputs.

“I think we really have a good trait combination that makes it a strong candidate for replacing Burbank,” said Bizimungu.

“We have one that has long storage, which means it can be stored as long as Burbank and still be processed with a good quality product, and produces really quite good yield across the country.”

Bizimungu said Russet Burbank is becoming more difficult to produce in light of trends to reduce crop inputs. Tuber defects increase without adequate fertilizer and irrigation or precipitation, so producers have to pay close attention to inputs and crop management.

“It’s becoming more … costly to produce it,” he said.

“It’s not a really good candidate for sustainable production systems, especially with climate change.”

In contrast, initial tests on the new variety show fewer tuber defects and a wide adaptation to different production zones.

“We really hope that the growers can compare it to Burbank to see how it can help them maximize their production system.”

Agriculture Canada testing has shown that AR 2018-02 has the following qualities:

  • high yield potential across most sites
  • long dormancy
  • moderate plant vigour and late maturity
  • oblong tubers, russet skin, white flesh, average number of shallow eyes
  • very low incidence of hollow heart and greening noted at some trial sites; in two years of controlled testing it had a moderate black spot bruise score (similar to Russet Burbank)
  • carries a marker associated with resistance to golden nematode
  • susceptible to PVY and PVX (potato viruses) by mechanical inoculation
  • resistant to scab in preliminary tests at Fredericton
  • selected also at Vauxhall, Alta.

The rival potato was among 15 variety selections offered to growers this year for non-exclusive field testing. For a $100 fee, growers can obtain a small amount of seed and conduct their own field tests for a two-year period.

After that, Agriculture Canada invites companies to submit cash bids for the varieties they’ve found promising. Winners can receive three years of exclusive testing and may later negotiate a license to commercialize.

Among the 15 were five varieties suitable for french fries, two for chipping, six for the fresh market and two for the niche market.

One of the latter two has a red skin and pink flesh and the other has purple skin and flesh.

Bizimungu said these novelty varieties are targeted for the fresh potato market and allow companies to offer unique and diverse choices to consumers. There may come a time when consumers buy table potatoes based on an identifiable variety name, just as they do for apple varieties, he added.

About Russet Burbank

  • Latin name solanum tuberosum
  • bred by Luther Burbank in the 1880s
  • registered in Canada in 1923
  • medium to high yielding
  • long dormancy period, stores well
  • requires long growing season
  • excellent for baking, boiling, french fries
  • highly resistant to blackleg
  • moderately resistant to scab
  • susceptible to late blight, leaf roll, verticillium wilt

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