Researchers try to produce potatoes that are resistant to climate change



University of Maine researchers are trying to produce potatoes that can better withstand warming temperatures as the climate changes.

Gregory Porter, professor of ecology and crop management, told the Bangor Daily News that warming temperatures and extended growing seasons could lead to quality problems and disease outbreaks.

“The projections for climate change are more rainfall, and potatoes don’t tolerate flooding or wet conditions for long without other quality problems,” Porter said. “If we want potatoes to continue to be successfully produced in Maine, we need to be able to create varieties that can resist change.”

Around the world, research to reduce crop damage is underway. A NASA study published this month found that climate change could affect corn and wheat production, reducing yields of both, as early as 2030.

Maine escaped the banner potato crop in part thanks to the success of the Caribou melon variety, developed by UMaine researchers. But Porter worries that even that cultivar may not be able to withstand the temperatures needed to combat the effects of future climate change.

Pests are another factor. The Colorado potato beetle and disease-carrying aphids have flourished due to climate change, says Jim Dill, a pest management expert at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Breeding changes that appear to be as small as hairy leaves that cause insects to move on a tree, he said, could reduce pest destruction and also the need for pesticides.

The crossbreeding of such traits into potatoes is a lengthy process of cross-breeding between different potato varieties.

This process is well underway.

They are currently in research trials at locations across the United States. Potato trials in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida are high temperature stress testing.

“It takes 10 years of selection after the initial cross-pollination and it can take two to five years before commercial evaluation is sufficient to introduce a new potato variety,” says Porter. Researchers try to produce potatoes that are resistant to climate change

Aila Slisco

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