New varieties mean 'millions could be saved in pesticides, fertility and water use'
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Officials with the Tri-State Potato Breeding Program say recent and ongoing field trials of many of their new varieties show most yield better with less nitrogen, pesticides and water than the industry standby, Russet Burbank.
For the new varieties to enjoy widespread planting and play a more significant role in improving growers' sustainability, however, officials note they must achieve greater acceptance by quick-serve restaurants, or QSRs.
University of Idaho Extension economist Paul Patterson aided in the trials, which aim to produce data to help get new varieties into more QSRs.
"All you can do is provide the best research-based information, and (QSRs) will make a decision based on what's best for their corporation and their customers," Patterson said.
The program's last variety to be approved by the leading QSR, McDonald's, was Umatilla Russet, added in 2002. Jeff Stark, director of the University of Idaho's Potato Variety Development Program, said QSRs invest a lot of time and money on evaluating processing attributes before approving a variety under their rigid standards.
Russet Burbank still represents 52.5 percent of Idaho's 2012 crop, but its usage has gradually declined throughout the years, down from 71 percent in 2002.
"The thing that will bring the industry to adopt these new, better varieties is acceptance by QSRs," said Jeanne Debons, director of the Potato Variety Management Institute. "Millions could be saved in pesticides, fertility and water use if the QSRs would adopt a new variety, but so far this hasn't happened."
University of Idaho researchers at the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center tested five new Tri-State varieties -- including Teton Russet, Palisade Russet and three numbered lines -- in 2012, applying varying rates of pesticides, nitrogen and water. They plan to repeat the trials next season.
Preliminary data from 2012 shows Teton Russet uses 20-30 percent less nitrogen than Russet Burbank, and Palisade requires about 10 percent less nitrogen, Stark said.
"Teton has been processed on a limited scale at this point, but it has shown good promise," Stark said.
Stark expects similar nitrogen reductions in the numbered varieties. The varieties should also have 20-30 percent better water use efficiency and significant pesticide reductions.
Stark said new varieties tend be more efficient due to more vigorous and deeper root systems and improved disease resistance.
"There's an ongoing process that occurs in the breeding program where we're evaluating how to grow these new varieties in the most efficient manor. In the course of doing that, we found that they pretty much all require less nitrogen and fewer pesticides than the varieties that are currently being grown," Stark said.
The researchers found similar efficiencies when they evaluated lines further along in processing evaluations in 2010-2011-- Alpine Russet, Alturas, Clearwater Russet, Premier Russet and Umatilla Russet. Alturas used 42 percent less nitrogen, and Alturas, Alpine and Clearwater showed equal protection with one fungicide application as with multiple applications during those two years. Alpine, Premier and Umatilla produced 18 hundredweight for every inch of water applied in 2010, 3 hundredweight more than Russet Burbank.