50th Anniversary: Fifty years of varieties
There have been a lot of potato varieties to come and go during Spudman’s 50 years of publishing. For nearly 100 years the Russet Burbank has been the standard that all new potato varieties aspire.
Shepody. Pike. Red Norland. Russet Norkotah. Alturas. Lemhi Russet. Cascade. Centennial Russet. Ranger Russet. These are just a few of the varieties that have been developed since Spudman’s debut in 1963.
Breeding programs around the world continue to research and develop new varieties. Every year we see new cultivars being named and marketed. What the general public doesn’t realize is the large investment of both money and time to develop a new variety. To test for disease resistance and culinary desirability and finally be accepted by consumers, be they processors or the general public. It’s a long term process with no guarantee that the end product will be successful.
From Colorado State University came the Rio Grande Russet in 2005. From the University of Wisconsin, the Snowden was released in 1992. In 1998 introduced the Umatilla Russet.
Most of the current varieties popular among growers have been developed since 1963. Colorado State University’s Rob Davidson has been compiling the list of seed potato varieties and the acres approved for certification for Spudman for the past 10 years. His most recent list of the top twenty seed potato varieties and the amount of acres can be found in this issue
Though no potato has come close to challenging the Russet Burbank’s popularity the Russet Norkotah and Russet Norkotah selections has come to be a strong number two in popularity. Released in 1987. The Russet Norkotah was developed at North Dakota State University as a table stock variety by Bob Johansen. Duane “Sarge” Preston, Professor Emeritus and retired Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota, remembers working with Johansen during the selection. At one time they were considered naming the potato “Bright Eyes” because they were so prominent on the cultivar. The Norkotah has been a popular variety among growers for its early maturity along with good profile and excellent yield characteristics.
In 1991 Joe Pavek was nearing completion of a new variety at the USDA Aberdeen, Idaho facility. As Pavek tells the story the variety had yet to be named. Known as A7411-4 at the time, he was meeting with members of the Idaho Potato Commission to gauge their interest in the new breed.
“They didn’t seem very interested,” Pavek said, “I said it does have promise but it does have some faults, black spot, for one.
“I’m trying to generate some discussion and they didn’t seem to interested so I said it seems that there are guys in Washington who are interested in it,” Pavek said, “I’m suggesting we call it the Rainier Russet. Well, you would have thought I had set off a bomb,” he said laughing gently as he recalled the incident.
The A7411-4 came to be named the Ranger Russet and it continues to rank annually in the top five nationally among all varieties.
These are just two of the many varieties that have come to prominence during the past 50 years. Across the United States new breeds are being introduced annually. Today the economic costs to develop new varieties continue to grow while universities and government research facilities struggle to keep current funding for their programs stable.
Yet, the industry has found innovative means to combine the talents, the intellectual curiosities and financial means to fund projects such as the National Fry Processing Trials and the National Chip Processing Trials.
In Idaho the J.R. Simplot Company financial assistance is helping keep the Parma Research & Extension center open for research and development.
Through it all the potato industry continues to develop new varieties to feed the world.
By Bill Schaefer