Defender potato makes great fries, foils late blight

Those delicious, golden fries you've enjoyed recently may have come from a potato called Defender. This excellent potato is the offspring of two parent potatoes chosen in 1990 by prominent Agricultural Research Service potato breeder Joseph J. Pavek, formerly at the ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Idaho, and now retired.

This potato has held the attention of ARS potato breeders and their university colleagues for more than a decade. These scientists were making sure -- in outdoor and laboratory tests -- that this promising potato would not only be ideal for processing into perfect fries, but also would resist attack by Phytophthora infestans, the fungus-like organism that causes late blight -- one of the worst disease of potatoes worldwide.

Scientists scrutinized the potato's performance in fields in California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Washington and elsewhere. French-fry processors also evaluated the potato. Last year, ARS geneticist Richard G. Novy at Aberdeen, ARS colleagues in Idaho and Washington, and co-investigators at the University of Idaho, Washington State University, and Oregon State University decided to name the potato "Defender" and officially release it to the potato industry.

Today, Defender remains the only commercial potato variety in the United States to produce leaves and tubers that usually survive late blight, according to Novy.

The natural resistance of Defender potato plants allows growers to use either no pesticides -- or reduced amounts -- to control late blight. In turn, this feature makes the potato ideal for conventional and organic farms alike.

Defender plants produce high yields of long, white-skin potatoes with proportions of starch and sugar that make the tubers well-suited for processing into frozen potato products. In addition, Defender potatoes can be sold fresh in the produce section of supermarkets.

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