Tri-state collaboration boosts production of No. 1 US vegetable

basket of potatoes
Washington, Oregon and Idaho produced 57 percent of the nation’s potatoes in 2013. (Photo: Potato Variety Management Institute)

Potato varieties developed by tri-state research are valued at more than $550 million

In the world of potatoes, farmers, processors and retailers are in a constant quest for crispy French fries, big bakers with pillowy insides, uniformly sized chips or colorful fingerlings for roasting.

So OSU, in partnership with the USDA and universities in Idaho and Washington, is developing new varieties of potatoes that meet these needs. The program aims to produce potatoes that resist pests and diseases, are attractive, have higher yields, are more nutritious, and handle processing better.

That effort has resulted in the release of more than 35 new varieties. Varieties released by the program are now produced on more than 130,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest and also represent about 22 percent of the fall crop grown nationally. More than a third of Oregon's potato acreage is planted with varieties jointly developed by OSU and its collaborators. One of them is Alturas, which produces yields similar to or greater than the most commonly grown cultivar, Russet Burbank, while using 40 percent less nitrogen. Nearly all potato varieties released by the tri-state program over the past decade require about 20 percent to 25 percent less nitrogen to produce yields similar to Russet Burbank. This could potentially reduce nitrogen applied in Northwest potato fields by about 8 million pounds, for an estimated $5.7 million savings to growers and a reduction in nitrate-contaminated ground water in the region.

Another tri-state potato, Umatilla Russet, is one of only four varieties served by the world’s largest fast food chain. It is the fifth most widely certified seed potato in the United States with regard to acres certified.

Potatoes are the third-most-consumed food crop in the world after rice and wheat. Washington, Oregon and Idaho produced 57 percent of the nation’s potatoes in 2013.

Read more about OSU's potato breeding program in Oregon's Agricultural Progress magazine.

Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization; OSU Extension Service; Potato Variety Management Institute; Brian Charlton, OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center; Rick Knowles, Washington State University; Mark Pavek, Washington State University; Jeff Stark, University of Idaho.

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