The potato breeding program operated by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has a long history, releasing more than 130 new varieties over the past 90 years. Because of shifts in consumer demand, technologies, markets and growing conditions that have transformed the potato landscape in Canada in recent years, AAFC has decided it’s time for a change.
This year, the department’s potato breeding program is undergoing a major overhaul in an effort to modernize and become more efficient. Another primary driver is a desire to make the program more responsive to the needs of the Canadian potato industry.
“A key element in modernizing our national potato breeding program is to ensure that we align our objectives with the needs of stakeholders and industry across the country,” says Virginia Dickison, an AAFC biologist and operations manager for the breeding program who also acts as an industry liaison officer.
Dickison says one of the main things the potato industry is looking for from the breeding program is a greater emphasis on the processing market.
“We’ve been covering all segments of the market and we’re continuing to do so, but we want to align our breeding percentages based on the market percentages across Canada,” she says. “For example, 65 per cent of the market is actually processing lines so therefore we want to have 65 percent of our efforts placed on processing lines.”
As part of the revamp to the potato breeding program, AAFC is also mulling over possible changes to the way its new varieties are commercialized.
“In any field of science, there are evolutions, there are breakthroughs, and the science of 20 years ago is different than it is now. So, what’s happening here is we’re just keeping up with the times,” says Benoit Girard, director general for AAFC’s Research and Development Centres in British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces.