Despite serious flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last September, a potato grower in Athens, Pa., still harvested a beautiful crop of Lehigh potatoes that not only resisted flood waters but also common scab and the dreaded golden nematode, one of the world’s most damaging potato pests.
And for that he can thank Cornell University’s plant breeders.
With the continual change in plant pathogen populations, insects, requirements for increases in yields, greater nutrient use efficiency of crops, and changes in consumer preferences, vegetable breeders are continually trying to produce new varieties that will fill the needs. Since its founding, Cornell has been a leader in that area.
In the last few years, Ithaca plant breeders have released a number of new vegetable varieties, including two new potato varieties — Lehigh and Red Maria — from the potato breeding program and Honeynut, a miniature butternut squash from the cucurbit breeding program.
Lehigh, is a mid-late season table stock that has large tubers with yellow flesh. One of the few potato varieties grown in North America with name recognition is the yellow-fleshed Yukon Gold, but it does not yield very well in the Northeast.
A hope for Lehigh is that it has the Yukon Gold yellow flesh and is also well adapted to the region, resulting in good yields of high-quality tubers with few internal defects.
The Pennsylvania grower with the flooded fields noted that the Lehighs were the only variety that yielded well.
As for Lehigh’s flavor, Walter De Jong, an associate professor and director of Cornell’s potato breeding program, said, “I like it. The two potatoes I eat most (and I have lots of choices) are Lehigh and Andover.”
Yellow-flesh potato varieties are not known for being good for chip production, however De Jong said, “Lehigh chips fare better than most yellows, but not as well as white-fleshed chipping potatoes.”
Potato varieties released from Cornell University have often been named after potato growing regions of New York. De Jong works closely with Barb Christ at Penn State to evaluate breeding material from both programs at New York and Pennsylvania testing sites and on this occasion chose to name the breeding clone known earlier as NY 126 after Lehigh, a potato-growing region in Pennsylvania.
“Certified seed should be fairly easy for commercial growers to find, as about 100 acres was planted for seed in 2011 in the Northeast, (New York and Maine) with most being in Maine.”
Red Maria, previously known as NY 129, is a very pretty red-skinned, white flesh table stock potato variety. A good red that retains its color through storage is hard to find, but Red Maria can live up to this test, De Jong said.
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Via Giri Kumar