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PVMI seeking licensees for specialty spud

A new specialty potato variety with a striking regal color both outside and in is looking for a home.

Christened the Purple Pelisse, the new variety was developed by the Pacific Northwest Tri-State Breeding Program, which has licensed the spud to the Potato Variety Management Institute (PVMI).

PVMI, in turn, is seeking to find at least one party to sublicense the variety to.

Purple Pelisse (pelisse is old French for “covering” or “coat”) was released by Oregon State University (OSU) and cooperators from USDA/ARS, the University of Idaho and Washington State University.

OSU performed the bulk of the evaluations and is also applying for rights under the Plant Variety Protection Act.

“This particular potato we really believe has a great chance of success because it maintains its color after it’s cooked and has a really nice flavor,” said Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission. “The texture, taste and color are all there.”

According to PVMI, this is the first time a specialty potato variety developed by the Tri-State program is being sublicensed to only one or a few private companies.

The initial Purple Pelisse cross was made in 2000 by USDA-ARS research geneticist Chuck Brown, who works out of Prosser, Wash.

The material was moved to Oregon State University, where, under the leadership of associate professor Isabel Vales, it was evaluated for several years before entering western regional trials in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, California, Texas and Colorado in 2006 and 2007.

Normally, specialty potatoes developed by the Tri-State program go straight to western regional trials and are not evaluated in the tri-state area.

“We’re trying to change that so the Tri-State group is more involved,” Vales said.

Purple Pelisse traces its female parentage back to a red-skinned/red-fleshed North Dakota experimental line that was selected at OSU before entering Brown’s program.

The pollen source for Purple Pelisse was Red Bulk, pollen from which was collected and crossed with the female flowers to produce an expression of the normally recessive purple color.

Purple Pelisse is a mid-season spud that is unique among other purple varieties in that plants set a large number of smooth, small, fingerling-shaped tubers with purple skin and dark purple flesh.

The variety can also be managed for larger, conventional spuds.

Purple Pelisse tubers are smooth with shallow eyes that are concentrated at the bud end of the tuber. They’re ideal for boiling or baking whole. Chips made from tubers retain their bright purple color and resist fading.

Purple Pelisse spuds are smaller than those of All Blue and have an erect to semi-erect growth habit with medium maturity. Flower clusters are medium in number and most flowers typically abort the pollen.

Sensory tests on the new line were held at the OSU campus and in Prosser by the Food Science Department. The Prosser sensory tests, which were informal in nature and featured microwaved, cubed pieces, revealed that while most people found the new variety “delicious,” the color was liked by Hispanics and Asians but “put off” Caucasians.

“They’re a bit shocked by the color, so there will have to be some education,” Brown said.

Purple Pelisse “fries well” and doesn’t turn brown, Brown said. It also tastes good as a potato chip, he said.

One of the selling points of Purple Pelisse is that, compared to conventional spuds, it has a high antioxidant content in the form of anthocyanins, which are found in the purple hue of the skin and flesh.

Vales, who is preparing the documentation needed for PVP certification, said Purple Pelisse could find demand in both the fresh market and processing sectors.

For that reason, PVMI is seeking a sublicensee in both sectors. A third sublicensee could be assigned exclusivity within the organic sector.

Purple Pelisse is not the only purple fingerling out there, but competition appears to be slight. Vales said she saw a few in a Safeway store in Corvallis, Ore., but did not inquire into their origin.

Brown said there’s an obscure variety called Purple Peruvian, which is irregular in shape.
“I don’t even know if you can call it a fingerling,” he said.

Another Purple Pelisse asset is that it can be managed to produce larger tubers, Brown said.

Despite the initial rejection on the basis of color by Caucasians, Purple Pelisse could very well evolve into a mainstream fresh-market spud if marketed properly, Brown said, possibly in 3- to 5-pound bags.

PVMI may be asking Purple Pelisse sublicensees to pay the Plant Variety Protection certificate fee, which is around $10,000, Brown said.

Part of the sublicensing agreement with seed companies will no doubt require that the companies agree to promote the new variety, he said.

While he doesn’t want to see Purple Pelisse “restricted” by exclusive sublicensing agreements, he doesn’t feel the spud would receive much promotional attention should it be released generally.

“I don’t see a company doing that unless (it has) an exclusive right to it,” he said.

Brown said that no potato seed grower wants to see exclusive licensing to one or just a few seed companies for Purple Pelisse, or any other variety for that matter.

“I understand their point of view, but we’re almost positive that if we let it hang out there, and everybody and their brother says they’ll (promote) it, nothing will happen,” he said. “It’s hard to get any kind of potato received in any market.”

The Pacific Northwest Tri-State Breeding Program is made up of Oregon State University, the University of Idaho, Washington State University and USDA-ARS labs in Prosser and Aberdeen, Idaho.

Originally posted Friday, May. 29, 2009

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