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New Brunswick scientists develop insect-resistant potato plants

New Brunswick scientists develop insect-resistant potato plants

The plants can help producers manage Colorado potato beetles

By Diego Flammini
News Reporter
Farms.com

New Brunswick potato farmers may have another tool in the fight against a damaging pest.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) researchers have developed two varieties of potato plants that are resistant to Colorado potato beetles.

Scientists bred a species in the wild potato family with common commercial varieties to create a plant the beetles wouldn’t enjoy eating, according to Dr. Helen Tai, an AAFC scientist involved with the project.

Colorado potato beetles can destroy up to 50 per cent of potato yields, Tai said. So being able to protect potatoes is good news for farmers and the provincial economy.

“The potato is worth $1 billion to the economy, so a 30 to 50 per cent loss in yield is a fairy significant one across the board,” she told Global News yesterday. “Some of the profit margins are not that high on potato (farms). So if you do suffer (a high percentage loss) in yield, it’s pretty hard to absorb in your farm operation.”

Producers are encouraged by the possibility of these beetle-resistant plants, which are in the commercial testing phase.

“We’ve had issues with these pests in the past, so we spend about $20,000 per year on insecticides to keep them away,” Richard Strang, CEO of Strang Produce Inc. in Malden, NB told Farms.com today. “This (development) would be a huge benefit to potato farmers and would allow us to reduce our operating costs.”

New Brunswick’s potato industry in 2016, according to Statistics Canada:

  • The province was home to 144 potato farms
  • Farmers seeded more than 19,000 hectares of potatoes
  • Growers harvested more than 650,000 tonnes of the crop
  • Producers averaged a yield of about 34 tonnes per hectare
  • The province exported more than $47 million worth of fresh potatoes

Top photo: Colorado potato beetle