Lots of Options

Texas A&M breeding trials offer reds to russets, babies to bakers

Published online: Sep 05, 2018 Articles, Seed Potatoes Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M University
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This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Potato Grower.

When Kelly Kuball walked the Texas A&M Potato Breeding and Variety Development Program variety display trials near Springlake, Texas, in mid-July, he was a long way from his specialty potato company in Arvin, Calif.

Kuball said the Texas A&M potato breeding materials have the potential to provide new products for his Tasteful Selections clientele. As the company’s variety development coordinator, he is looking for potatoes with unique characteristics, such as shape, color and size—“anything that might improve what we already grow and put in our bag for our customers.”

Tasteful Selections concentrates mainly on baby potatoes, a rapidly growing market, Kuball said. This is his fourth year to come observe the trials in Springlake, but he has been growing and evaluating Texas A&M potatoes for seven years in California and at other Tasteful Selections growing locations on the West Coast. The company currently has three Texas experimental varieties in its advanced trials.

“If the varieties pass all the qualifications in early observation trials, we will then graduate the lines into replicated and commercial tests,” Kuball said.

Kuball was among about 50 people who attended the annual Potato Field Day in cooperation with Springlake Potato Sales Inc. and Bruce Barrett Farm.

Isabel Vales, Texas A&M AgriLife Research potato breeder in College Station, said the breeding program’s main goal is to develop new potato varieties. She now leads the breeding program, long run by Creighton Miller.

“We work in different market classes,” Vales said. “Clearly, the fresh market russets are very important, followed by the chippers.”

The Texas A&M program is known for its release of several strains of fresh market Russet Norkotah strains, including No. 278, which Vales said is “a beautiful fresh market russet, long appreciated in the marketplace.” The Texas A&M Russet Norkotah strains currently have 35 licensees in 12 states. Another recent release, Reveille Russet, has been licensed to 16 seed growers, with comments that it is “a very good baking potato.”

“Vanguard Russet is our latest release,” Vales said. “It is a blocky, attractive potato that we have great hopes for. We also have another russet variety with pink eyes and yellow flesh, but we are still in the process of finding someone interested in promoting it.”

In terms of specialty potatoes, she said they are working with varieties that provide different sizes, colors of skin and flesh, as well as some with higher levels of antioxidants.

“We are working in the area of smaller potatoes, bite-sized potatoes, but that’s a relatively new market, and we need promoters or ambassadors who are interested in moving those potatoes to the public,” Vales said. “We also have some pretty advanced materials [that are] not quite ready to be released, but [are] very interesting from the perspective of different culinary preparations.”

She said there is one particular variety with a red flesh “that I think could be useful for vegetarians. It almost looks like red meat. It’s kind of funny; we were calling it ‘paparoni’ after papas, which means potatoes [in Spanish]. We cut them like pepperoni to put on a pizza. We need people who are creative and think outside of the box to start giving value to parameters like nutritional content, taste and originality.”

The potato breeding program starts by making crosses between parental lines that may have a desired trait, but not the total package, Vales said. The crossing block has around 70 parents.

“We generate fruits or berries containing true potato seed from that; we plant the seed to generate seedling tubers that go to the field for the first year,” she said. “They are planted at our Springlake and Dalhart locations. This year there are 70,000 different genotypes.”

When harvested, Vales said all the tubers are looked at and compared by size, shape, color and other qualities. Selection is stringent at that level, with only 1 to 2 percent selected to be re-planted in the second field year. The seed is increased and additional selections are made every year.

“Once we have enough seed from one variety, we will move them to replicated trials, where we pay attention to yield, quality, disease resistance, chipping quality and other parameters,” Vales said.

Selections then are moved to the national level and placed in the Southwestern trials, which include Texas, Colorado and California, she said. If they pass that level, they go to the Western Region trials, which include those three states as well as Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

The chipping potatoes have a separate national effort with several other states and trials, Vales said. While Texas A&M has a big breeding effort in chipping, she said they are not ready to release anything yet.

Growers interested in working with any cultivars from the Texas A&M Potato Breeding and Variety Development Program are encouraged to contact Dr. Isabel Vales at isabel.vales@tamu.edu.