In the quest for potato variety improvement in the Northwest U.S., one promising challenger to the early maturing russet norkotah variety has emerged.

Growers like the yields and packout of the russet norkotah, but the trade prefers the all-around cooking quality of the russet burbank, said Gary Garnand, president of Garnand Marketing LLC, Twin Falls, Idaho. Finding a variety that melds some of the best traits of both varieties would be ideal, he said.

The classic russet variety has grown in popularity since its commercial release two years ago, said Jeanne Debons, executive director of the Bend, Ore.-based Potato Variety Management Institute, the licensing and royalty collection arm of state potato commissions in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

The variety was developed at the University of Idaho in 1995 but released only a couple of years ago, Debons said certified seed acreage in the U.S. in 2009 for the classic russet variety topped 600 acres, compared with more than 25,000 acres for the russet burbank. Total U.S. certified seed acreage was 108,444 in 2009.

However, the variety doesn’t have the storage capability of the russet burbank, she said.

“Russet burbank can last for nine months plus in storage, and classic can’t do that,” she said. “However, I think it has some potential to replace russet norkotah because it is early in the year, it tastes good and it has very good yields,” Debons said.

So far, 90 days is considered the limit for the storage life of the classic russet, but she said that window will like be pushed longer the more popular it will become.

“Up until now, I wouldn’t count on storing it longer than 90 days,” she said.

Debons said the alpine russet also is a promising new variety in the Northwest, offering high yields, durability in storage, cold resistance and good tuber type.

Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of marketing for Wada Farms LLC, Idaho Falls, said he expects growth in potato varieties in coming years but he doesn’t see a game-changing variety that is so different in taste or other attributes that it creates a sensation.

He said varieties that gain consumer popularity may feature vivid color, such as new red and gold varieties

“To say there will be the best thing since sliced bread, in the short term I don’t know,” he said.

To see other varieties offered by the Potato Variety Management Institute, visit their web site, (