Potato plots, variety trials return to Ag Progress Days

University Park, Pa. -- Pennsylvania harvested $34.5 million worth of potatoes in 2009. It's no surprise, then, that with the state's proximity to population centers in the Northeast, potato farming is a big deal -- big enough to warrant research through the Penn State Potato Variety Trials, which will be showcased with displays and demonstration plots during Ag Progress Days, Aug. 17-19.

"Potatoes are one of the most important food crops worldwide, and especially important in developing countries, because they can grow lots of food in a small space," said Robert Leiby, county extension director for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lehigh County.

Pennsylvania's location, close to many consumers, is good for producing potatoes, whether the spuds are bound for consumption in fresh or processed form -- either dehydrated or as potato chips. "We have a very significant potato chip industry," Leiby said.

Since the 1920s, potato variety demonstration trials have played an integral role in helping farmers decide which potato varieties to grow on their farm. These trials remain important today, because they showcase how new varieties of potatoes perform against proven varieties. Farmers still use the trials to evaluate which potatoes they want to grow.

"Many new varieties have recently entered the market," said Leiby. "Home gardeners and producers may recognize names like Kennebec, Kathadin, Red Pontiac or Cobbler. But these traditional varieties are waning in popularity. We're featuring some new varieties that many people aren't familiar with, so we want to raise their profiles."

Penn State's trials offer a unique opportunity. Pennsylvania's soils and climate are suited to potatoes such as round whites, red-skinned and increasingly popular specialty potatoes. The Northeast doesn't support russet-type potato production, the way the climates in Idaho, Oregon and Washington do. Therefore, Penn State's potato trials are more relevant to farms that will grow the tested varieties than the trials performed elsewhere in the country.

New for this year's Ag Progress Days potato variety demonstration trials is the tent located on West 11th street. The tent will feature an exhibit of full potato plants from each of the 24 varieties in the demonstration plot. Leiby and other educators will dig up specimens from the plot each day, and these experts will be on hand to answer questions.

"So visitors to Ag Progress Days will be able to compare the tubers of the plot's varieties to those of 'standard' varieties," said Leiby. "Visitors will be treated to a cross-section of potatoes from across the United States.

"We have some russet-types, Kennebecs, Yukon Gold and Dark Red Norland potatoes -- standard varieties that may be familiar to gardeners and farmers. But we also have new varieties such as Adirondack Red, Adirondack Blue and Purple Majesty (a purple-skinned, purple-fleshed potato), as well as some varieties that are only numbered -- they haven't even been released yet."

Sponsored by the College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State's Ag Progress Days is held at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 17; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 18; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 19. Admission and parking are free. For more information, visit the Ag Progress Days Web site at http://apd.psu.edu.

Twitter users can find and share information about the event by using the hashtag #agprogress.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010