UMaine Gets Funding to Research Heat-Tolerant Potatoes

Published online: Nov 11, 2021 Articles Jessica Hall
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Source: Mainebiz

The University of Maine has received $510,104 in federal funding to conduct research on potato breeding in Maine to make the crop more heat-tolerant and resistant to pests.

The funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, said U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine.

“Maine’s potato industry is an integral part of our state’s heritage and plays a major role in our state’s economy,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “Although the crop was hit hard last year by the pandemic and drought, Maine’s potato farmers have proven their resiliency time and time again.”

The federal funding will support research at the university to develop new potato varieties with improved heat tolerance and increased resistance to pests and disease, as well as improve information-sharing and collaboration with stakeholders.

“By investing in UMaine research to improve the potato’s resistance to extreme weather and other stressors, this funding will support Maine farmers’ efforts to protect their crops and ensure that this industry remains strong for generations to come,” Collins and King said.

Last year a drought, combined with COVID-related drops in the potato markets, resulted in the 2020 crop being down 20% from the previous year. By contrast, 2021 is shaping up to be one of the best in years for the Maine potato industry, due, in part to the success of the Caribou Russet, a potato variety that was developed by UMaine through previous funding from this program.

Collins and King have long been vocal advocates for the Maine potato industry.

The Biden administration’s budget request had proposed to eliminate direct funding for potato research earlier this year. At an appropriations subcommittee hearing in June, Collins told the Secretary of Agriculture that this proposed cut would harm the potato industry.

As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Collins helped secure $2.75 million for potato research grants and $20 million for the Integrated Pest Management Program in the agriculture funding bill that passed the committee in August.

King introduced the AG Research Act in August to address the multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog and modernization needs at various agricultural research facilities, including UMaine’s potato research program.