We grow very high-quality potatoes in Oregon and the Columbia Basin. If you order French fries from McDonald’s or Wendy’s anywhere in the world, the potatoes probably came from here. We also grow excellent fresh market russets and high-value specialty potatoes in the Klamath Basin. We are one of the highest-yielding potato regions in the world.
One challenge for our breeding program is to improve the potato and still retain a core set of quality traits for the processing industry. Potatoes have a lot of genetic diversity that plant breeders can work with. It can take as many as 11 years to develop a new potato variety, beginning with 100,000 crosses. The industry works closely with us in the last 3 or 4 years, looking for possible new varieties. After a promising variety is released, it takes another several years for the so-called quick-service restaurants to evaluate consumer response. And, if the new variety is accepted by the industry, it takes several more years for growers to meet the market demand.
Our breeding program is concentrated on four classes of potatoes: russets for French fries; russets for fresh market; potato chip varieties; and specialty potatoes for organic production or enhanced nutritional value. Within each of those classes, we breed for resistance to disease, such as potato virus Y, and soil-borne pathogens, such as nematodes and verticillium.
I’m particularly interested in the potato’s value in food security for the future. In that regard, I’m trying to produce high-yielding varieties with even higher nutritional value. I’m working with collaborators to increase the content of folic acid, iron, and zinc in potatoes, so that this staple food will be even more nutritious for people.