Resarch collaboration focused on global expansion of new varieties
It’s a long way from Turkey’s Fertile Crescent to Idaho Falls, Idaho. That halfway-around-the-world journey brought Fahrettin Goktepe to Idaho Falls as the director of breeding and variety development for Potato Seed Solutions (PSS).
Goktepe grew up in Elazig, Turkey, in the area historically referred to as the Fertile Crescent. After earning a bachelor’s of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering from Ataturk University in Erzurum, Turkey Goktepe emigrated to the United States to pursue graduate studies at Colorado State University.
“I can tell you the exact date,” he said. “July 11, 1996.”
He would go on to earn both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Plant Breeding Molecular Genetics-Plant Biotechnology at CSU.
After completing his doctorate, he went CSU’s San Luis Valley Research Center
to work with Dave Holm, his graduate advisor, for another four to five years.
“That was like a second Ph.D. in San Luis Valley,” Goktepe said.
Goktepe likes the challenge of developing new varieties that growers and the potato industry will use.
“That’s why I went to the San Luis Valley,” Goktepe said. “Dave’s program is really unique because he does everything in-house, from crossing all the way to the end product.”
After five years of working with Holm, Goktepe moved with his wife, Zuhal, and their three sons to central Oregon, where he worked as an Oregon State University assistant professor in Extension services. He ended up working for OSU’s potato breeding program at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
A FRUITFUL PARTNERSHIP
In 2010, Sunrain Potato Varieties in Idaho Falls recruited Goktepe to create Potato Seed Solutions as the Research and Development arm with Sunrain serving as the marketing end of the business.
When PSS first began, Goktepe didn’t have any brick-and-mortar facilities.
“We were renting some greenhouses in Jerome. We didn’t have this facility until 2013,” he said of the greenhouses and culture labs located west of Idaho Falls in an area surrounded by fields of potatoes and barley.
Goktepe said that throughout the R&D process, he collaborates with Brit White, the general manager of Sunrain, in determining what new varieties will be in demand by the industry and consumers. Bringing an acceptable variety to commercial success can take up to 10 years or longer.
“Sunrain is heavily involved in that selection and moving potatoes to the variety levels. Anything that comes out of the breeding program, they have to see it at least two or three times,” Goktepe said.
White said Sunrain helps Goktepe target markets and ideas.
“We give him the direction of what markets or segments we think need opportunity,” White said. “He’s very open to input and ideas. Then down the track, we have an agronomy team at Sunrain that will start qualifying the later stage, because after about seven years, he hands material back to us, and we trial it across the country in multiple sites.”
Sunrain then will conduct product development trials across the country, from Idaho and the Columbia Basin to Texas, Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and North Dakota.
“He’s really good at his craft, back to this private and public kind of a thing he does a lot with a few people, comparatively,” White said. “He’s doing an exorbitant amount with a very small team. It has to be lean and efficient in order to drive return.”
Goktepe said he separates variety development into two categories: consumer traits and agronomic traits.
“For agronomic traits, yield is the number one trait,” he said. “Then also disease-resistant, quality, like how easy it is to grow for seed multiplication, for commercial production,” Goktepe said. “We look at sustainability. We look at heat and general tolerance and we look at disease resistance.”
Goktepe said Sunrain tries to use the lowest amount of inputs when growing new varieties to combat high fertilizer prices.
Consumer traits Goktepe emphasizes during research and development include taste and flavor as well as eye appeal, uniformity and size.
“It should be a nice, beautiful-type potato,” he said. “We break it down to three different cooking types: firm, fairly firm and baking. We look at cooking quality and we look also at shelf life.”
Goktepe said that he emphasizes Potato Virus Y (PVY) resistance in developing new varieties through testing and while growing new varieties in an area surrounded by commercial potato fields.
“We want to have varieties that are PVY resistant, at least some level of resistance, so growers can grow in their seed program for two, three cycles without major problems,” he said. “This is a heavily loaded, PVY-infested area because I’m surrounded by commercial growers. If a variety stands out in my program for four or five years without any PVY problems, we have good confidence that this is a PVY resistant variety.”
Other diseases varieties under development are exposed to include potato mop-top virus, tobacco rattle virus and powdery scab.
Goktepe said he is currently focused on specialty varieties such as yellow flesh potatoes, red-skin potatoes and mini-tubers, which he said is a fast- growing market.
Potatoes are a global vegetable, and PSS and Sunrain are focused on increasing their share of that global market.
“They want me to set up trials in Turkey and to really capture that region,” Goktepe said. “It’s not just Europe, it’s Russia, Ukraine, Middle East. If you go to Israel, Morocco, Egypt, they set up trials.
“So if I have something here which is not suitable for our market, they can, because they travel to Middle East, European side or that part of the world, they say, ‘Yeah, it may not work here, but there’s a market.’ ”