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$200,000 Grant to Help UMaine Researchers Produce New Potato Varieties

Contact: Gregory Porter (207) 581-2943 or Aimee Dolloff (207) 581-3777

ORONO, Maine — A project at the University of Maine to produce new varieties of potatoes that can stand up to disease while giving Maine growers new marketing opportunities recently received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The $200,000 USDA grant will be combined with funds already provided by the Maine Potato Board to conduct potato breeding and variety selection work throughout the next year.

The research is primarily carried out by faculty in the UMaine’s Department of Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences, but also includes researchers in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition as well as the School of Biological Sciences.

Parent potato plants chosen for yield, quality and disease resistance characteristics are crossed at the greenhouse at Aroostook Research Farm in Presque Isle. The resulting new plants then are screened to identify superior new varieties that will have the best attributes of their parents. Screening the plants for resistance to late blight, scab, and pink rot is a priority.

The UMaine program focuses 50 percent of its effort on developing new russeted potato varieties for processing and fresh market use in the east, but also looks at improving fresh market, specialty and chipping varieties of the vegetable.

Of the total grant amount, $102,000 will be used by UMaine to fund breeding program technical staff as well as field and laboratory supplies for the potato breeding, disease screening, and variety development effort.

“We also conduct processing and fresh market quality evaluations with these funds,” said Gregory Porter, UMaine professor and coordinator for the Potato Breeding and Variety Development Program.

He added that a new component of the project is designed to develop molecular–based tools to help select varieties with improved disease resistance.

“It does not involve genetic engineering, but rather uses these new molecular tools to help us more efficiently screen our breeding populations for desirable traits,” Porter said.

The project is a collaborative effort involving Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina. The remaining $98,000 in grant funds will be provided to these other states to support the regional collaborative research to develop new varieties which perform well under a wide range of eastern growing conditions.

Although they aren’t funded by this USDA grant, the University of Florida and the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md. are part of this collaborative research effort.

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