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CALS Can’t Stop at Just One

By Stacey Shackford

Walter De Jong
University Photography
Walter De Jong

Kettle-cooked or ridged, salted or flavored, potato chips are adored by Americans, who consume an average six pounds per person per year. Plant breeders at CALS are helping to feed the nation’s appetite for the crispy snacks—and New York’s $62 million potato industry—by releasing two new potato varieties.

Waneta and Lamoka, named after a pair of twin lakes in the Finger Lakes region of New York, are especially appealing to potato chip manufacturers because they fare well in storage and produce a nice color when cut.

This is important because chipping potatoes are harvested in fall, but may not be chipped until the following spring, explains Walter De Jong, associate professor of plant breeding and genetics.

Lamoka also has a high level of starch, a trait that is desirable for chipping because it soaks up less oil when fried. Waneta has less starch, but is less likely to bruise, a characteristic that may appeal to farmers in New York, where fields are stony.

Both varieties are resistant to pesky potato pathogens golden nematode and common scab. This gives them a distinct advantage over Snowden, the chipping industry standard, which is susceptible to both diseases.

“New York growers will have a higher-quality product to sell,” De Jong says.

First crossed in 1998, the varieties have undergone 13 years of testing, propagation, and evaluation. They have been grown on several farms in trials across the country, and reaction among both growers and manufacturers has been positive, according to De Jong.

Around 40 acres of seed were produced in 2010, meaning 400 acres of the new potatoes can be planted in 2011, and demand is already outstripping supply. Each acre yields about 30,000 pounds of potatoes.

Waneta and Lamoka are the seventh and eighth varieties released in the past decade by the Cornell potato breeding program, which develops chipping and tabletop varieties. Other recent releases include Red Maria, Adirondack Red, and Adirondack Blue, popular with consumers due to their novel red and purple pigmented flesh.

The average American eats 126 pounds of potatoes each year. Almost half of the 20,500 acres grown by New York’s 150 commercial potato farmers are made into potato chips, and many are processed in Pennsylvania plants, such as Utz and Herrs, De Jong says.