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Breeding the best potato – Audio

Potato breeding at Rhinelander

Photos from Rhinelander Station found here:

Bryan Bowen

Rhinelander Agricultural Research Station

UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (715) 369-0619

Bryan Bowen tells us about the art of breeding potatoes.

3:04 – Total time

0:18 – Focus of the station

0:32 – How potatoes are bred

1:09 – Hand pollination

1:39 – What farmers want

2:07 – Specialty potatoes being developed

2:54 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: Bryan can you give us a little description of the Rhinelander Ag Research Station?

Bryan Bowen: The Rhinelander Station is in an area that historically was known for seed potato production in Wisconsin. And our focus is really based in potato breeding and genetics. 

Sevie Kenyon: Bryan can you described for us potato breeding?

Bryan Bowen: Potato breeding is the process of trying to invent new potato varieties. Potatoes have flowers. By cross pollinating from a pollinated flower there’s a fruit that grows, and it looks like a small green tomato once it enlarges. And inside those fruits, are true potato seeds. It may be interesting for people to understand that it takes approximately fifteen years for us to go through this breeding and section process to the point where we can commercialize a variety.

Sevie Kenyon: Can you describe the actual process a little bit?

Bryan Bowen: We identify what recombinations we want to make, what plants we want to use to donate pollen, and what mother plants we’re going to use to receive pollen. And we pick flowers from the pollen donors and we out it through a little vibrating process like a bumble bee, and eventually that pollen will be brought to a receiving plant. Just like a bumble bee might move pollen around in nature.

Sevie Kenyon: What kinds of things do people want in these new potato varieties?

Bryan Bowen: If you’re a farmer you want to look at what you’re currently growing and always think about something that could be better. So yield is obviously important, the uniformity of how the potatoes look is important; tolerance of a new genetic line to diseases is something that we look at very carefully. The trick is to come up with the key traits all in he same plant.

Sevie Kenyon: And is there anything new or different in the last several years?

Bryan Bowen: I think that if people look around in the produce section of the store they’ll see some of these yellow flesh varieties being marketed and sometimes purple, red, and yellow potatoes blended together in the same bag. We are working with specific companies that want to grow and market these products. So yeah, we’re working with what we call specialty potatoes. Potato chips has been one of our areas of specialty in the past and we’re looking for varieties that have higher dry matter and less water. We’re also looking for potatoes that will physically store longer, and so if they’re harvested in September, we’d like to see good frying products for French fries and potato chips coming out of those buildings in April, May, and June.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Bryan Bowen, Rhinelander Agricultural Research Station, University of Wisconsin- Madison and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I am Sevie Kenyon.