Kern County's Potato Variety Trial Field Day featured 70 potato entries. (Natalie Willis - Valley Ag Voice)

Potatoes are graded on marketability, yield, and resilience.

Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

On Wed., the UC Cooperative Extension in Kern County and California Potato Research Advisory Board displayed new potato varieties at Hart Memorial Park. Growers, seed sellers, and potato enthusiasts convened in a small section of the park to inspect various piles of potatoes, rated by their marketable and total yields.  

The field day is an alliance between the Southwestern Regional trial and the observational trial of private breeders, explained Jaspreet Sidhu, vegetable crops farm advisor at UCCE. The collaboration features growers and experts from California, Colorado and Texas that publicly breed new varieties of potatoes to test for Kern County growers. The Southwestern Trial featured 15 entries this year, seven of which were replicated in Kern, but the total Observational Trial highlighted 70 varieties.  

Given the unique climate and topography of the Central Valley, Sidhu explained the importance of testing potato varieties for adaptability.  

According to Sidhu, growers plant seed from breeders in the Southwestern region and other countries such as Canada and the Netherlands to observe how they will fare in future seasons. Potato performance is dictated by yields, tuber size, skin, color, and disease resistance. The potatoes were planted in early February and harvested on June 19, two days before the trial field day. 

The UCCE has hosted the Kern variety trial for 15 years and relies heavily on grower feedback to modify future trials. According to Sidhu, growers provide the direction for breeders based on their current marketable interests such as bite-sized potatoes.  

“We had a few varieties that performed well, and based on grower input, I think a couple of them have made their way to Kern County,” Sidhu said. “Another thing is that the growers here have expressed interest in the bite-sized or the small potatoes…so they are testing to see how it performs.”  

Spectators at the field event received a collection of data from the Southwest Regional Trial entries that factored every distinct variety’s clone and marketable yield. Sidhu pointed to varieties that performed exceedingly well, including two chippers—Atlantic and Snowden.  

While most varieties were replicated in Kern, a few newer varieties are still in observational trial. 

“We look at them for like two or three seasons and make our decisions,” Sidhu said. “Because we need to know how it adapts to our climate, how it performs, the disease resistance, [and] the yields.” 

According to David Holm, professor of horticulture at Colorado State University, the trial is a foundation for the future market and provides an indication of what crops will work in Kern’s climate. 

“We’ve made a lot of varieties over the years and some of them work quite well here, but there’s always a transition,” Holm said. “You’ve got to always find something better that’s maybe newer, has better disease resistance or whatever other traits are important.” 

The fluctuating conditions in the Central Valley, specifically in terms of climate, have a sizable impact on a potato’s performance and the specific problems they may develop such as section growth or hollow hearts, Holm explained. The industry in Kern County is a high stakes game, he continued, due to elevated land prices and resources that are generally higher than other production areas.  

David Holm (left) surveys the potato entries. (Photo: Natalie Willis – Valley Ag Voice)

 As the Potato Breeding and Selection Project Leader, Holm’s research highlights breeding that will improve postharvest as well as other processing qualities. He has spent roughly 30 years working with Colorado and out-of-state growers to test and observe new potato varieties.  

“It’s not much different than raising kids really,” Holm said. “Every kid is [an] individual and it’s the same thing with potatoes—they’re like individuals. You just have to be able to learn what’s the best way to grow them.” 

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