Scientists at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre held an open house to show members of the public what goes into getting potatoes from the fields, to their tables.
Technology has come a long way since potatoes were first grown here, so the day gave researchers a chance to show how they’ve been able to progress the potato breeding and cultivating process over the years.
“We have all kinds of new science emerging so we can go much further in the knowledge and develop new best management practices, new technologies,” explained director of research Eric Van Bochove. “We see progress, of course, but we have also more threats.”
Pests can not only ruin a current crop but can even create lasting effects on plants, jeopardizing their ability to produce usable potatoes in the future.
To combat this, researchers work not only with the potato itself but also with the insects that can cause such problems.
“When you grow them outside there are plenty of pressures, it could be bacteria in the soil it could be insects,” said post-doctoral researcher Sebastien Boquel. “My specialty is understanding the behaviour of aphids to reduce the spread of a certain virus, the potato virus Y.”
Each year approximately 200,000 varieties of potato are cultivated by Maritime potato research scientists who cross breed different types to find the best of the best.
“Developing a new potato product on the market takes time,” explained Benoit Bizimungu, a potato breeding research scientist. “Because we need to bring together different traits that will be beneficial to the consumers, to the growers and to the whole industry overall.”
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Many varieties of potato currently being researched were on display along with some imported, more colourful specialties.
“A lot of these coloured varieties have a lot of nutritional qualities,” explained research scientist Helen Tai who was showing off purple potatoes which grow naturally in South America. “And some of those nutritional qualities are the same things that you would find in blueberries, they’re antioxidants.”
Tai insists the purple potato is delicious, although she understands most people’s hesitation to try it.
In North America and Europe the potato is typically bland in colour, but elsewhere in the world they run the whole spectrum of the rainbow.
“It’s not really about why the potato is purple, it’s about why the potato is white,” she said.
“Because the potato is actually naturally multi-coloured and so the question is how did we get to the white potato?”