No 1 potato eaten by most New Zealanders

Palmerston North 20 March 2009

Potato eaters in New Zealand have almost certainly eaten the nation’s number one cultivar bred by scientists at Plant & Food Research. More Moonlight potatoes are grown than any other potato here and roughly five million of them are eaten in New Zealand each year.

The smooth white-skinned, white-fleshed general purpose potato named after mountain runner, Melissa Moon is a recent release from New Zealand’s sole commercial potato breeding programme based at Plant & Food Research.

New Zealand’s potato science programmes are attracting attention this week as expert speakers gather to talk on the global potato industry’s future at the 7th World Potato Congress in Christchurch from Sunday 22nd March.

It is the first world congress to be hosted in New Zealand and the country’s potato science is under the spot-light. The nation’s potato research programmes are carried out at Plant & Food Research, the new Crown Research Institute formed in December 2008 through the merger of HortResearch and Crop & Food Research.

The company’s chief executive, Peter Landon-Lane says Plant & Food Research is unique in the world in the diversity of its involvement with potatoes. “We have scientists deciphering the DNA code of potatoes, developing improved crop management systems and breeding potatoes with elite characteristics,” he says. “We’re also gaining a better understanding of the nutritional benefits of potatoes and our food scientists are developing healthy convenient potato-based products.”

Much of the research is in partnership with industry including Potatoes New Zealand, processors and food manufacturers and it receives funding from both the New Zealand government and from royalties from cultivar sales, Mr Landon-Lane explained.

A recent new technology developed by Plant & Food Research scientists is saving growers in New Zealand, Australia and now North America hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in fertiliser and irrigation costs. The potato calculator is a decision-support web-site that enables farmers and processors to predict yield and maturity dates. It has been extensively trialled and is being marketed by CropLogic.

New Zealand’s sole commercial potato breeding programme is based at Plant & Food Research. The popular Moonlight potato - a smooth white-skinned, white-fleshed general purpose potato named after mountain runner, Melissa Moon – is one of the releases. Another latest release is a purple skinned potato with purple tones in its flesh name ‘Purple Heart’. The purple colours come from anthocyanin pigments which are strong antioxidants.

Several Plant & Food Research scientists are participating in the congress as speakers, workshop organisers and panellists.

  • Dr Andrew Pitman and Professor Richard Falloon are the organisers for the technical Workshop on Soilborne disease of potato
  • Jeremy Carter will profile the potato calculator that is saving growers fertilisers and irrigation costs.
  • Dr Hamish Brown is speaking in the first session about ‘Nitrogen/nitrate management for potato production’.
  • Dr Julian Heyes will address the congress on ‘Opportunities from potato processing waste’.
  • Dr Marian McKenzie is an invited participant to the Workshop on ‘Ensuring a growth market for tomorrow – applying science to rising consumer nutritional expectations’.

The 7th World Potato Congress is at the Christchurch Convention Centre from Sunday 22nd March to Wednesday 25th March 2009.

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
Mobile: +64-21-2429 365

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