Research for the love of sweet potatoes

WATCH: Sweet potatoes often come from the southern United States, but Canadian researchers are developing sweet potatoes better adapted to our cold environment.

Canadians seem to love their sweet potatoes.

“Consumption in Canada has doubled in the last 5 years,” said Catherine Archibald, a senior research technician in vegetable breeding at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

According a recent Vineland report, in 2012, Canadian retailers imported over 60,000 tonnes of sweet potatoes. Ontario growers produce 7,000 tonnes annually.

“Sweet potatoes usually grow in a warn, hot, dry climate and they have a longer growing season. They’re very popular in Louisiana, North Carolina,” said Archibald. “We are trying to develop sweet potato varieties that are adapted to our climate which is cooler and has a shorter growing season.”

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre has the first sweet potato breeding program in Canada. It is spearheaded by research scientist, Dr. Valerio Primomo.

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“So far we have screen over 2,500 sweet potato seeds, some of them acquired from our Louisiana State University collaborators, for several traits including flesh colour, shape quality, days to maturity, dry matter content and sugar content,” said Primomo. “We have reduced the sample size to 15 top-performing varieties that are being evaluated by our partners throughout this summer including three growers in Southern Ontario and one in Nova Scotia.”

Eventually the top 3 varieties will be used for future research. As for when consumers will see them in the grocery store? The goal is within 5 years – helping Canada become more competitive.

Dr. Tania Humphrey is Director of Strategic Planning and Research Management, “It means we can buy local, we can buy Canadian. All the growers, supply, retail – everyone gets supported along the way. It helps the Canadian economy.”