PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Of the three new potato varieties released by the Maine Potato Board and University of Maine in the past two years, at least one is gaining traction in the market.
The Maine Potato Board of directors voted during a Jan. 28 meeting to allow the board’s executive staff to discuss an international licensing arrangement for the Caribou Russet with McCain Foods, the world’s largest producer of french fries.
Released last March, the Caribou Russet “does seem to have some real potential,” Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said. The board and University of Maine license the variety in the U.S. and Canada, but McCain Foods is interested in paying for the rights to license it in other countries.
“There’s no downside to us,” Flannery said, noting that McCain would handle all of the logistics, such as a one-year quarantine for seed potatoes going to Europe. Still, he said, “I caution everybody. It’s a new variety.”
The Caribou Russet is a cross between a Silverton Russet and a Reeves Kingpin and was developed under University of Maine professor Greg Porter, who leads the university’s potato breeding program in a partnership with the Maine Potato Board.
The variety boasts of a few favorable characteristics, including moderate resistance to common scab and Verticillium wilt and lower levels of hollow heart. The Silverton heritage, though, has raised concerns about its susceptibility to potato virus Y and prompted the potato board to have Caribou Russet seed potatoes tested for the virus, Flannery said.
Meanwhile, another recently released french fry variety, the Easton, is having some trouble. Released in 2014 after development at the University of Maine’s Aroostook Research Farm in Presque Isle, the Easton has been showing issues with seed decay, powdery scab and storage.
McCain Foods, whose large processing plant has been a fixture in the town of Easton since the 1970s, “has struggled with it,” Flannery said.
The Easton is a hybrid of the Silverton Russet and another unnamed pedigree. Trials showed it could grow with 25 percent less nitrogen and potassium fertilizer than the Russet Burbank, among other benefits.
But McCain, which was using the potato with some its growers, has had a number of issues, Flannery said, without specifying the problems.
“They are going to stop doing any commercial work with the variety, but they want to do some research work,” Flannery said.
“I think Easton still has a place in the production system, but we need more research on how to grow this variety,” Flannery said. “Learning how to grow and store new potato varieties is not unusual. That is one of the reasons so few new varieties really succeed at the commercial production level.”
One of the other three recently released varieties, a chip-focused potato called the Sebec, is “plugging along” with three licenses to seed potato growers, Flannery said. So far it’s gaining some interest, and it’s not showing major problems. “It’s there, but it’s new,” he said. “We’ll see how it picks up.”