P.E.I. Growers Look to New Varieties

Published online: Sep 03, 2019 Articles, Seed Potatoes
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Source: CBC

Researchers are working on new varieties of potatoes that they hope will help growers on Prince Edward Island cope with the effects of climate change.

Some of the newest varieties were on display as part of the annual Potato Variety Day at the Agriculture Canada research station in Harrington, P.E.I.

"There [are] two stages of evaluation in this trial," said Mary Kay Sonier, seed co-ordinator with the P.E.I. Potato Board. "One is the Agriculture Canada breeding lines, which are sort of upstream, material that will be coming down the pipe so growers can look at, to get an idea what's coming down."

The board also conducts trials on potatoes that are closer to being in widespread production.

"We test varieties that are newly commercialized or about to be commercialized to see how it grows under Prince Edward Island conditions," Sonier said.

"Great potential"

Sonier said climate change is definitely on the mind of potato growers coming to check out the new varieties.

"They're dealing with climate change every day on their farms, we have the droughts, we have these periods of extreme downpours," Sonier said.

"So obviously varieties offer a great potential for dealing with some of those threats."

Sonier said growers are looking for some specific traits in the new varieties.

"Varieties that have a shorter maturity, so ones that that are a good size they could harvest early perhaps avoid issues like we had last fall with the early freeze up," Sonier said. 

Varieties that are more drought-resistant are also of interest to Island growers. 

"We have some varieties growing in our trial that have withstood the drought very well," Sonier said.

"We have some traditional varieties that have not handled the dry weather and are pretty well finished at this point."

Sonier said new varieties also have to be able to store well.

New varieties are just one way growers are trying to deal with the impact of climate change.

"There's a lot of research going on in terms of soil conservation, in terms of cover crops to help growers adapt to climate change," Sonier said.

"Varieties are one tool in the toolbox to deal with climate change."

Matching the P.E.I. climate 

Alvin Keenan, of Rollo Bay Holdings, was one of the growers at the event in Harrington.

"What really gives you the appreciation for it is when you visit this operation and the effort that they're doing on their breeding program," Keenan said.

"The varieties that are being grown here ... helps match our climate conditions."

Keenan agrees the research on varieties has become even more important because of what's happening with climate change.

"Our temperatures are warmer, our springs are a little later and there seems to be a little more moisture in the fall," Keenan said. 

"The varieties that will stand our dry summers are becoming more important to us." 

Virginia Dickison, a biologist with the national potato breeding program at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is visiting eight trial locations across the country, including Harrington.

"With climate change, you have to breed for varieties that are going to be able to adapt to those different climates," Dickison said.

"Because we do have our trials in eight locations in the different provinces, we can relate the data that we collect on quality and appearance and yields with the climate data."

It could take more than a decade to determine which varieties work best.