By MITCH LIES
HERMISTON, Ore. -- Oregon State University's new potato breeder, Sagar Sathuvalli, is looking at 1,800 selections in his plots at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
If all goes well, two or three of the selections will become named varieties.
Such is the reality in the breeding world, where a 1 to 2 percent success rate is considered good, and progress is measured in years, rather than days or weeks.
Sathuvalli, a native of India, has been working since Dec. 1 as OSU's lead potato plant breeder. He fills a position that the College of Agricultural Sciences administrators had left vacant for two years because of budget shortfalls.
A portion of Sathuvalli's salary is being picked up by the Oregon Potato Commission.
At a recent field day here, Sathuvalli told growers he is trying to develop varieties to meet their needs. That includes selecting for several traits, including insect and disease resistance, good yield potential, water- and nitrogen-use efficiencies and taste.
Most of Sathuvalli's work is in russet potatoes, which are sold as fresh and processing potatoes.
His work takes him to Klamath Falls, where he'll start the selection process, Corvallis and Hermiston, where he is based.
Sathuvalli typically starts with between 50,000 and 60,000 selections. The selections gradually will be narrowed to the 1,800 he has at the Hermiston station. From that, he said, if things go well, 2 or 3 will be grown commercially.
In all, it takes 12 to 14 years to develop a new variety, he said.
The Hermiston station has been an important site in the development of new potato varieties over the years, said station director Phil Hamm.
Among varieties the station has worked to release are the widely grown Ranger russet and Umatilla russet. Both varieties were developed through the industry's tri-state breeding program, with Ranger russet an Idaho release, and Umatilla russet an Oregon release.
Sathuvalli received his master's and doctorate degrees from Oregon State University. He received his undergraduate degree from a university in India.