Thriving potato industry needs access to research

Growing potatoes requires hard work and good management, but a successful crop also brings good rewards.

John Bareman says , "Potatoes become susceptible to many diseases and it’s important to have expertise close by."

Southern Alberta is home to a thriving potato industry and John Bareman, Chairman of the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA), is one of many potato growers in the area. He got into the business more than a decade ago when the ConAgra Lamb Weston processing facility opened. Based on a farm near Taber, he’s been growing potatoes ever since.

He says getting a successful crop of potatoes out of the ground depends on many factors, like having the right growing conditions, enough people to do the work, and healthy plants.

“Potatoes become susceptible to many diseases and it’s important to have expertise close by,” says Bareman.

Potato growers need answers quickly when diseases like early or late blight threaten their potato crop and that’s one of the reasons they support establishing a new Chair of potato science at the University of Lethbridge.

Industry partners, McCain Foods, Cavendish Farms and ConAgra Lamb Weston, also support the initiative and, together with the PGA, have committed $1 million over five years for the research initiative.

Given Alberta’s potato industry is worth more than $1 billion every year, the partners want to increase research capacity and provide more opportunities for students.

“The potential is there for a phenomenal result,” says Bareman. “If we get local kids going to the University of Lethbridge and finding a career in the local industry, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

In addition, Bareman would like to see new varieties of potatoes developed as part of the research by the Chair of Potato Science.

“The potato varieties we grow are probably older than I am. There’s a lot of potential for new varieties but we have to get the right combination of good storage, good yield and frying well,” he says.