KBREC researcher Brian Charlton is a potato patriarch. Each year, he oversees the incubation of new potato varieties from 565 families and their 50,000 first-generation offspring. He knows the parents of each clone and personally inspects each tuber to evaluate which ones “pass muster.”
Each year since the 1990s, he has examined every blemish on thousands of potatoes. “I’m an agronomist, so I’m the ‘boots-in-the-field’ guy who can tell if a potato variety has the genetic potential to resist disease and pests,” Charlton said. “We retain the stuff that shows the most promise in the breeding population.”
Without the aid of a microscope, Charlton visually examines each of those 50,000 potato youngsters for dozens of traits, including quality, yield, and disease resistance. These early generation spuds will be transplanted and further evaluated at sites throughout Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. This attention to detail has translated into success. Potato varieties recently released by the tri-state program are now produced in the Pacific Northwest with an estimated value of $600 million.