Potato breeders continue their search for the Holy Grail of varieties, which must possess a shopping list of desirable traits. They admit it’s not easy.
“To bring together all of those attributes that are required, it’s a difficult undertaking,” said Rich Novy, a research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Aberdeen, Idaho. “But that doesn’t mean there can’t be improvements.”
Novy is part of the Tri-State Potato Breeding Program, a collaborative effort among ARS and university breeders in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Among their requisites are requiring fewer inputs to grow, improved storeability and disease resistance, more evenly shaped tubers, higher overall and No. 1 yields, drought and heat stress resistance, and improved nutritional attributes.
Courtesy Potato Variety Management InstituteThe teton russet, a relatively new variety, is the product of the Tri-State Potato Breeding Program.One such variety is teton russet, a cross between blazer and classic russet, that was released earlier this year.
Teton has an earlier maturity than russet burbank, more along the timeframe of russet norkotah, Novy said. Although teton has overall yields comparable to norkotah, it produces more No. 1s, he said.
Two other pluses are teton is resistant to common scab, a disease that causes unsightly blemishes on the tuber, and fusarium dry rot, a storage problem.
In addition, the new variety has 35% more vitamin C than russet burbank and 17% more than ranger russet, amounts Novy called substantial.
“We’re looking at it as a replacement for norkotah,” he said.
Classic, a 2009 release also billed as a norkotah replacement, never really gained a large following, said Jeanne Debons, executive director of the Bend, Ore.-based Potato Variety Management Institute.
The nonprofit institute licenses and collects royalties on varieties developed and released by the Tri-State Breeding Program.
Bryan Mickelsen, general manager of Rigby Produce LLC, Rigby, Idaho, said the growing operation had tried producing the classic one season. Although the potato looked pretty coming out of the field, he said it didn’t hold up well when packed in poly bags.
Because teton is still relatively new, Gary Garnand, owner of Garnand Marketing LLC, Twin Falls, Idaho, said he hadn’t had a chance yet to see how it bakes. The bulk of his firm’s business is foodservice, which prefers a burbank.
“Probably 85% will switch into burbanks as soon as they’re comfortable with burbank quality,” he said. “The restaurant and the foodservice people like the way they bake. They bake fluffier and drier than norkotah.
“I think the classic has some potential as well as the teton, from what I’ve read. So far, we haven’t found that ultimate replacement for the burbank.”
It’s not for a lack of trying, Debon said. From a grower’s standpoint, she said burbank carries some agronomic baggage.
“Russet burbank doesn’t yield. It has lots of quality problems and diseases, that require lots of inputs. It really is kind of old,” Debon said.
But burbank, which can go fresh or processed, remains the most widely grown variety because it is still the go-to variety for McDonald’s french fries, she said.
According to the U.S Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, russet burbanks are expected to comprise about 52% of this year’s planted acreage in Idaho, followed by russet norkotah, with nearly 21%.