With names like AAC Poppy, AAC Glossy, and AAC Red Viola, today’s marketplace for spuds is no longer as simple as “You say potato, I say po-tah-to.”
These names are among the more than 30 varieties developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and that are currently under license by the Canadian potato industry for sale to domestic and international markets.
The process of identifying potato selections that have the potential to deliver on industry needs takes six years to complete before they are shared with the potato industry through AAFC’s Accelerated Release Program. Only a few star performers make the cut each year out of more than 100,000 candidates.
Ten to 15 of the best of the best selections developed by the AAFC breeding program are unveiled to the industry during a special annual potato release open house event, held simultaneously at different locations across the country. If industry participants like what they see, they can pay a small handling fee to conduct their own trials to evaluate local adaptation and market potential of the selection as a possible commercial variety.
Head AAFC potato breeder Benoit Bizimungu says developing new varieties takes years and there are many factors to consider both for the industry and for the consumer.
“The potato industry is looking for varieties that are resistant to drought and disease but still have a high yield and the right shape and look for their particular market,” says Bizimungu. “On the other hand, consumers are looking for more diversity and nutritional benefits.”
AAFC’s Accelerated Release Program has been active since 1998, with close to 200 selections released since the program’s inception. As new varieties are developed, past potato strains are retired in favor of newer, better varieties, ensuring that Canadian potato growers always have access to the best varieties available. Varieties include potatoes grown specifically for processing and as fresh produce for the consumer market.
AAFC breeders have also developed a number of varieties that have colored flesh and/or skin—from pinks to purples, and golds. Many small novelty varieties known as creamers have also become increasingly popular with home cooks and restaurants.
This year’s potato release open house was held Feb. 15 in Fredericton, New Brunswick; Guelph, Ontario; and Lethbridge, Alberta.
Click here for more information about AAFC’s accelerated release program for potatoes.