No browning, less grease with Florida’s Elkton potato

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click image to zoom A new potato variety grown for use as a chip should be more marketable because it averts a process that causes the crop to brown, and may be less oily than current tubers, a University of Florida researcher says.

The Elkton potato does not succumb to internal heat necrosis, said Lincoln Zotarelli, a UF assistant horticultural sciences professor and faculty member at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The disorder is caused by high temperature and changes to soil moisture and nutrients and leaves the potato brown inside.

UF/IFAS and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists put Elkton potatoes through 19 trials, from 2003-2013, in Florida.  Numerous trials were also conducted in Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The trials tested Elkton’s adaptability to soils in the those states and showed the variety exhibits characteristics growers want, said Kathleen Haynes, a research geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland.

The Atlantic is the standard potato chipping variety against which new types are tested in Florida. By those measures, Elkton has better yield, producing more potatoes per acre – a total of 36,800 pounds, or 13 percent more than Atlantic.

It also has an acceptable shape, which in this case is more oval than round, where Atlantic is round, Haynes said. Round is preferable to roundish-oval, but UF/IFAS scientists haven’t heard any industry feedback on the potato’s shape, Zotarelli said.

Elkton, named for an area about 10 miles southwest of St. Augustine, Florida, also will produce potatoes with high solid content, which then yields chips that absorb less oil when they’re fried. Elkton sits in the area where Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties converge, where more than half of Florida’s potatoes are grown.

Potatoes are a $136 million-a-year crop in Florida, which ranks 11th nationally for production of the tuber, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

UF/IFAS scientists work with breeders from the USDA, other universities and industry distributors such as Frito-Lay, Real Potatoes and Simplot to test and select potato varieties for Florida’s growing conditions. Researchers test the latest varieties at UF’s Partnership for Water Agriculture and Community Sustainability in Hastings.

“We test for local adaptability,” Zotarelli said. “It’s a team effort. The initial breeding and selection process is done in Beltsville and in Maine, where most of the seeds come from. We have been selecting the genetic material there, bringing it to Florida, and testing in our conditions.”

Thus far, about five producers in the Elkton area grow its namesake potato, he said.

Results of the Florida trials were published in the June edition of the American Journal of Potato Research.

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