Oregon, Washington try out new potato varieties

07/28/2010 11:16:46 AM
Andy Nelson

The Portland-based Oregon Potato Commission has committed an extra $60,000 this year in funding for the potato variety development program at Oregon State University, said Bill Brewer, the commission’s executive director.

Among those new varieties Brewer is most excited about is the AmaRosa, a red-skin/red-flesh variety the commission showed off to chefs at specialty cooking events in 2009.

This is the first year the variety has been released to growers, Brewer said, though it could be another year before the AmaRosa is on retail shelves.

Another new variety developed by Oregon State, however, will likely be available commercially this fall in small numbers, Brewer said.

The purple pelisse is a purple-skin/purple-flesh variety that Klamath Basin growers have exclusive rights to, he said.

The specialty variety succeeds, Brewer said, where some of its predecessors failed.

“It has good flavor and holds its color, which is something purple growers have had trouble with,” he said.

Dave Long, chief executive officer of the Othello, Wash.-based United Fresh Potato Growers of Washington-Oregon, said he was looking forward to the day when a permanent replacement could be found for the norkotah russet.

Other russets have been extensively trialed in recent years, but so far, results have been mixed, he said.

One roadblock to innovation for a new fresh-market russet, Long said, is continued preference for a spud that suits more than one market.

“Everybody’s looking for a multi-use variety, one that will work in processing and fresh,” he said.

That doesn’t always work out for the fresh market, however, Long said. Varieties processors like have a lot of dry matter. But spuds with higher dry matter tend to bruise more easily, lowering their value on the fresh market.

The solution, Long believes, is a russet designed specifically for the fresh market. One currently on the market, the rio grande, comes from Colorado, he said. Another, which commonly goes by the name pacific — though that is not its official name — was developed in Canada.

One member company in United Potato Co-op of Oregon and Washington has had success growing the rio grande, another has not, Long said.

Even if the variety proved successful for a number of growers, it would take at least two or three years to generate enough seed for the rio grande to have a significant effect on the russet market, he said.

Work is being done to find a russet alternative to the norkotah, Brewer said, but so far, progress has been limited.

Red potato production in Washington and Oregon will be up in 2010-11, Long said, though he wouldn’t know by how much until United finishes its mapping project of the states.

Good marketing and higher summer demand are among the factors driving the higher red production, he said.

“They’ve done a very good job advertising it, and it’s very attractive in a pack,” Long said. “And in the summer, with barbecues, reds tend to be used in potato salad more than russets.”

Higher production also was expected on some patented varieties such as klondike roses and other yellow-fleshed specialty spuds, Long said.

Many of those niche varieties are pre-sold and so don’t have an affect on f.o.b. prices, he said.

Yellows will maintain their position as the No. 2 variety after russets in Oregon in 2010-11, followed by reds, then other specialties, Brewer said.



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