Eastern Potato Varieties & Farm Sustainability

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Potato ranks in the top three vegetable crops produced in the eastern U.S., generating hundreds of millions of dollars and supporting thousands of jobs. Growing conditions, consumer demands, and marketing opportunities vary widely across the region, creating need for tremendous diversity in potato varieties. Many traditional varieties available to eastern farmers are not well adapted to their specific growing conditions or markets. This makes it difficult for farmers to supply high quality products to consumers while maintaining economically and environmentally sustainable farming practices. For example, many traditional varieties are susceptible to pests (e.g., Colorado potato beetle, aphids, and leaf hoppers), diseases (e.g., scab, and silver and black scurf), and other stressors, which can destroy crops or cause defects in appearance, taste, or texture, making them unmarketable. Currently, farmers rely on costly chemical pesticides to prevent crop loss due to pests and diseases. However, these chemicals can result in chronic environmental degradation and health problems for agricultural workers. Farmers also need to know the best growing practices for specific varieties, including how far apart seed pieces should be planted and how much water and fertilizer will be needed. Furthermore, farmers must make sure that in-demand red-skinned and purple potatoes maintain their bright color while in storage after harvest. While demand for fresh potatoes is high in the region, potatoes with uniform shape, consistent color, and few defects must also be produced to fill contracts with large, international chip and French fry processing companies.

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