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Univ of Maine is developing a ‘super potato’ resistant to climate change

For decades, the University of Maine has devoted valuable agricultural research to studying how to improve potato crops, a central element of the state’s agricultural economy. Over the past year, the focus of the program’s mission has ramped up with one particular goal in mind: make potatoes that are resistant to climate change, writes Sam Schipani in an article for Bangor Daily News (BDN).

While warmer temperatures may extend the potato growing season in Maine, they can also cause problems with the crop’s qualities and diseases, said Gregory Porter, a professor of crop ecology and management at UMaine. Porter is the lead investigator for the school’s potato breeding program, which works on projects from improving marketing opportunities for growers to developing potatoes that are more resistant to diseases like potato virus Y.

Developing a potato that is resistant to the changing climate is more important now than ever. Maine is coming off of a banner year for potato crops thanks in large part to the success of the Caribou russet, a potato developed through UMaine’s breeding program. Porter fears that even the beloved variety isn’t as heat tolerant as necessary to resist the ongoing effects of climate change.

Porter doesn’t yet have a sense of when the new climate change-resistant potato varieties will be ready for market, but they are in a research testing phase right now at sites throughout the United States. For example, potatoes are in places like Virginia, North Carolina and Florida to test high temperature stress, and disease pressure in Pennsylvania.

Source: Bangor Daily News (BDN). Read the full story here
Photo: All reds, dark red Norlands, and purple skinned yellow flesh potatoes. Credit: Denise Farwell / BDN

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