By John O'Connell
For Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
BEND, Ore. – A pair of potato varieties bred in the Pacific Northwest will be highlighted during a launch event at a forthcoming trade show in Germany, which should lead to an influx of royalties supporting regional potato breeding efforts.
Potato Europe 2018, scheduled for Sept. 12-13, will include an event to raise awareness about Clearwater Russet and Blazer Russet, which were released from the cooperative public potato breeding programs of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Both varieties were approved as accepted varieties for making McDonald’s fries in the summer of 2016.
Clearwater has been the most popular of the two varieties, by far. U.S. growers planted 1,930 acres of Clearwater seed in 2017, up from 894 acres in 2015, according to the Potato Variety Management Institute, which handles licensing and royalty collection of varieties released from the Tri-State Potato Breeding Program of Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
“I would say the Germans have already grown these, and they like how they look in their production fields, so the sky is the limit,” said Chuck Brown, who recently retired as potato breeder with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Prosser, Wash.
PVMI’s executive director, Jeanne Debons, said between 50 and 100 European and Western Asian potato industry officials have been invited to the launch event to learn more about the varieties and how to obtain seed. She said some German companies have been growing seed of both varieties and have an ample supply, and they’re now commencing with advertising and marketing.
“Because of the success we’ve found with processors, they have been encouraged to market them in Europe,” Debons said.
Debons has been invited to speak at the launch event, though her board hasn’t confirmed that she’ll be making the trip.
Debons said U.S. seed growers planted 6,359 acres of Tri-State varieties in 2017. PVMI collects about a third of its royalties from growers within Idaho, Washington and Oregon, another third from U.S. growers outside of the three states and the remainder from international growers.
PVMI expects to see significant growth in its German royalties following the launch event, which will support regional potato breeding programs.
“If Clearwater grows as an agronomic success in other places, then I believe we have the potential of increasing the royalties substantially,” Debons said.
Clearwater is a medium- to late-maturing russet that maintains excellent fry color out of storage, resists sugar ends and avoids tuber defects.