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New russet potato variety could be big for Red River Valley

FARGO - Will a newly discovered russet potato variety make the Red River Valley a yield contender with the vaunted Pacific Northwest?

Carl Hoverson of Larimore, N.D., thinks so. As one of the key growers for the J. R. Simplot Co. potato processing plant in Grand Forks, he should know.

Hoverson Farms hosts test plots that include trials by Asunta "Susie" Thompson, a potato breeder at North Dakota State University in Fargo. This year, one of Thompson's new crosses, a variety called 4405-1 Russet, had an incredible yield of 777 hundredweights per acre. That's more than twice the average yield of russets in the state the past decade, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Most russets in the state are raised under irrigation for the French fry market.

Hoverson was so impressed he put out his own press release.

"There were about nine very nice, uniformly shaped (potatoes under each hill) with light russeting tubers under each plant," Hoverson says.

Each of the potatoes weighed about a pound.

The big news was that the clone was planted late, on May 24. Still, it bulked up by the harvest date of Sept. 17. Other Russet Burbank varieties in the same row were yielding 300 bags.

Hoverson says the selection has to go through many tests for processing quality, including solids, but the signs look good.

"It typically takes 400 (per hundredweight) of potatoes per acre on irrigation in North Dakota and Minnesota to cover input costs, so this would be great news for our potato farmers," Hoverson says.

"If this variety does all of the qualities the processing industry wants," it will rival the major potato producing areas of the Pacific Northwest, Hoverson says. The Red River Valley could again become the major supplier of potatoes in the United States and world markets, he says.

"Lower costs per acre combined with impressive yields will make the Red River Valley a powerhouse in potato production," he said.

The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association thanked Thompson and her crew at NDSU for a "job well done."

"It's very early of course in that clone stage, but we do have other beautiful dual-purpose russets in our pipeline," Thompson says. "In fact, one hopefully to be released this fall or winter that has excellent yield potential."

She says one in trials at Inkster, N.D., and harvested Sept. 26 had a yield of 522 hundredweights per acre on a short dry season. It was planted on June 2.

Hoverson says he has already decided to invest several thousand dollars in the breeding effort.