Researchers try producing potato resistant to climate change

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

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Bangor, Maine – Researchers at the University of Maine are trying to produce potatoes that can better withstand temperatures as climate changes.

Gregory Porter, professor of crop ecology and management, told the Bangor Daily News that warmer temperatures and an extended growing season can lead to quality problems and disease.

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“Climate change predictions are heavy rainfall events, and potatoes do not tolerate flooding or wet conditions for long periods of time without other quality problems,” Porter said. “If we want potatoes to continue to be produced successfully in Maine, we need to be able to produce varieties that can be resistant to change.”

Worldwide, research is underway aimed at reducing crop damage. A NASA study published this month suggests that by 2030 climate change could affect corn and wheat production, reducing the yields of both.

Maine is emerging from a banner potato crop thanks to the success of the caribou russet, which was developed by Eumen researchers. But Porter fears that the variety is not as heat tolerant as is necessary to resist the future effects of climate change.

Pests are another factor. Jim Dill, a pest management specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said the Colorado potato beetle and disease-carrying aphids have thrived with the changing climate.

Breeding small changes such as hairy leaves makes it difficult for insects to move around on the plant, which can reduce pest destruction and the need for pesticides, he said.

Breeding such characteristics in potatoes is a long process of cross-pollinating different varieties of potatoes.

The process is going well.

They are currently in a research trial phase at sites across the United States. Test potatoes in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida are testing high temperature stress.

“After that initial cross pollination, selection takes 10 years, and it can take two to five years before there is enough commercial evaluation to release a new variety of potato,” Porter said.

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