In mid-July, a new variety of potato named Alliston was officially registered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, taking its name from the potato capital of Ontario. The new variety was developed by a potato breeder from Quebec named Andre Gagnon. Gagnon wanted to create a spud with a round to oval shape, smooth skin, white flesh, with an early maturity and resistance to the common scab, the most common potato disease in the province.
The entire process from development to registration took about a decade to complete, according to Dr. Eugenia Banks, a potato specialist with the Ontario Potato Board. Banks first got her hands on the variety in 2014, and she planted them for three consecutive years in a field at C&V Farms. She said breeders are constantly looking to make new varieties of potatoes that are easier to grow and are more resistant to disease.
In order for a new variety to become viable for large-scale production, she said they are put through a “gauntlet” of challenges they must meet or exceed. The trial starts in the field, but it doesn’t end there.
“I have seen a few varieties that made it all the way through the rigorous selection process only to fall victim to problems with fusarium dry rot or some other issue that never surfaced despite all the years of testing,” Banks said. It takes a decade or longer to determine whether a new variety is viable.
“After the initial cross has been made, much of those 10 to 12 years are required to perform all the testing required to determine how the candidate varieties perform,” she said. And of course, a new variety has to pass the human taste test.