Seed for Specialty Varieties—MSU Project Is Moving Forward     

September 2, 2015    
Progress is continuing on a Michigan State University (MSU) project for greenhouse production of virus-free minitubers of specialty potato varieties. The greenhouse itself has been completed, and the next step is installing the hydroponics equipment for growing the minitubers.

The project is being funded through a competitive State of Michigan Strategic Growth Initiative grant secured by Dr. Dave Douches, who directs MSU’s potato breeding and genetics program. The vision is for a complete system that can serve the basic seed needs for unique varieties that fill niche markets. He noted that commercial growers of minitubers for seed avoid lower-demand varieties because the small-scale production is not economical.

Douches pointed out that the specialty varieties are sparking increasing interest as more and more consumers at farmers’ markets look for novel items to include in their home cuisines. These potatoes are marked by unusual colors in skin and flesh or by unusual sizes and shapes. Some shippers are already specializing in this potato category or adding it to their offerings to retailers. However, he added, production is still on much smaller acreages than the mainline varieties require, so seed orders remain relatively small also.

He emphasized that virus-free certified seed is as critical in this sector as in larger production but is currently undersupplied. His lab has developed a technique for virus removal called cryotherapy that employs extremely cold temperatures. In the MSU greenhouse, virus-free plantlets will be produced by tissue culture under sterile conditions and then grown using hydroponic or nutrient film technology into minitubers that meet state seed-certification standards. Douches expects the minitubers will be distributed throughout North America to commercial producers for seed increase.

His breeding program continues to develop specialty varieties as well as new releases for chipping and the general fresh market. He said the Michigan Potato Industry Commission’s Fresh Market Committee and Variety Release Committee will play instrumental roles in the choice of varieties for production in the MSU greenhouse.

Once the facility is operational, Douches stated, it will “remove one of the hurdles the potato industry has been facing—finding certified seed that is available in the needed small lots for emerging varieties.”

The greenhouse will be managed by a full-time research technician and also will employ several part-time workers. 
The Weekly Potato Report