Idaho, Washington, Florida Going Different Directions

Published online: Jun 29, 2004
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The potato-growing states of Idaho, Washington and Florida have all been in the news recently for efforts to 1) market a low-carb Dutch potato variety--Florida; 2) develop an entirely new variety with protein, vitamin A and iron enhancements--Washington; and 3) fortify a dehydrated potato product with more nutrients--Idaho.

While these states are getting national attention for their projects, all three projects are independent and not connected to one another in any manner. They are not being coordinated through national potato organizations.

CNN for one was stating that Idaho was developing its own low-carb potato. This is a false report. Idaho is simply using the University of Idaho's research capabilities to find a way to nutritionally enhance dehydrated potato products. Idaho's answer for a low-carb diet is to eat one-third of a normal-sized potato. 

Idaho produces 70 percent of potato dehydrated products in the United States. The research project is an attempt to help this segment of the industry, especially in getting favorable response from foreign and domestic food-aid programs for additional sales as well as to give Idaho another marketing advantage.

Florida has grown and will market a Dutch potato variety that is low in carbohydrates. It is expected to fill a niche market. Qualities of the potato variety are unknown and attempts to find out the varietal traits and characteristics of the potato have gone unanswered.

Florida's low-carb potato will be marketed after commercial grow-outs next winter in the winter/spring--Florida's natural potato market. To date no other potato-growing state has made known attempts to follow the low-carb lead of Florida.

In Washington's case, a $200 million Gates Foundation Grand Challenge in Global Health is being offered to any research entity that can create a more nutritionally better plant food.

Washington State University has agreed to proceed in this direction with a genetically modified potato with the goal to combat protein, vitamin A and iron deficiencies in the diets of needy people in developing countries. This will be done through the development and local adoption of nutrient-enhanced high-yielding cultivars with durable resistance to late blight.

WSU has agreed to go after the challenge offered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. WSU is proposing to increase the protein content of potatoes three-fold from currently 2-3 percent to approaching 10 percent; vitamin A from currently nil or trace amounts to potentially 50 percent of daily requirments; bioavailabililty of iron in potato-based diets two- to three-fold; and provide assurance that nutritionally enhanced potato genotype cultivars will be grown by resource -poor farmers by adding durable resistance to late blight.

All modifications will be done with genes naturally present in potatoes or relatives of potatoes. For this proposal, WSU will have a budget of about $20 million over five years.

WSU expects competition to be global intense but if successful there will be spin-off benefits for the Washington industry of a high-protein potato.