By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario – Watch the video
Elora, Ontario – Ontario’s potato growers have teamed up with researchers at the University of Guelph to identify new potato varieties that grow well in this province and are both tasty and nutritious to consumers.
The early fresh potato market in Ontario – the first potatoes of the season to come to market, generally in early July – is dominated by round, white potatoes. Very few early red or yellow potato varieties, which have more nutritional value-added potential, are currently available to be grown in Ontario.
“The early fresh market is very valuable, worth about $4 million a year, so we are looking to identify and establish red and yellow varieties for this market that are grown in Ontario, and adapted to the Ontario market and climate,” explains Vanessa Currie, a Research Technician in the University of Guelph Department of Plant Agriculture working on the project, which is supported by the Ontario Farm Innovation Program.
“Specifically, we are looking for red, yellow, specialty and value-added varieties,” she adds. “Specialty varieties, for example, are potatoes that are purple-skinned or have red or purple flesh, which indicates high antioxidant content and high nutrient value.”
The average Ontarian consumes approximately 140 pounds of potatoes per year. Ontario’s entire fresh market potato industry is worth $40 million a year and Ontario potato growers supply approximately 70 per cent of that market.
The University of Guelph has a well-established variety trial program and a good working relationship with the Ontario potato industry, receiving 50 to 60 elite fresh and processing potato variety lines – ones that have already gone through some testing and plot trials – from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) breeding program every year for evaluation.
In 2014 they also received 300 early generation lines, which are not yet as well established and tested as elite lines, but are showing promise for testing in Ontario. Currie’s team also sources some genetics from American universities and private breeding programs.
So far, several high yielding lines that also may have antioxidant properties have been identified as promising. Two such examples are 2147, a spud with beautiful purple skin that produces well over 600 bags per acre, and a small round potato called Red Endeavor that is ideal for the chef market.
“When you have a wide variety of material to choose from, you have a much higher likelihood of finding something that works,” says Currie, adding that the field trials are being complemented by nutritional analysis work conducted by food scientists at the university.
A field day is held every August at the University of Guelph research station in Elora, Ontario where varieties being trialed are on display and growers can ask questions of the research team. An annual report that includes results from all the trials is available from the Ontario Potato Board.
“The potato is a nutritional powerhouse, so if we can find varieties that are more appealing to consumers, and enhance the profitability and sustainability of growers, that’s success,” says Currie. “The benefit of our work is more choices of varieties for growers and higher quality fresh and local potatoes for consumers.”
The Ontario Farm Innovation Program is funded through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.