Would you like (sweet potato) fries with that?
Written On: 07 August, 2018
Category: Academic , North Hill Campus , Research
Related programs: Horticultural Production , Agribusiness
Manitoba is a large producer of potatoes in Canada. Sweet potatoes? Not so much.
Dr. Sajjad Rao is on a mission to change that, by conducting research at Assiniboine to identify a sweet potato that could grow easily in Manitoba and just as easily be processed into french fries.
Why does Manitoba need sweet potatoes, when it has all the potatoes it needs?
“First, we need crop diversification. Continuing to grow the same crop on the same land is not the best agricultural practice,” Dr. Rao said.
“Second, we are importing a huge amount of food from the south. We need to produce locally to replace imports,” he said.
“Number three, from the Manitoba perspective, we have two big industries: Simplot and McCain. Because they have plants here, they are processing potatoes. But McCain has one plant in the southern U.S. and all they process there are sweet potatoes.”
If Manitoba growers could guarantee a steady supply of sweet potatoes, Dr. Rao thinks Simplot and McCain would use some of their capacity to process them into sweet potato french fries.
A representative of McCain has already visited Dr. Rao two or three times.
Dr. Rao is working with the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre, located in Lincoln, Ontario and funded by the federal and Ontario governments.
“They’re working on sweet potato breeding. There are challenges in growing a subtropical crop in a temperate region, which is a colder region. They are trying to develop a strain with early maturity,” because of the high number of days with frost in Manitoba.
Vineland is going ahead with a promising variety. They will be producing planting material this year and next.
Dr. Rao’s next goal is to test that variety with growers.
“Growers are interested in a variety that can be grown commercially in Manitoba.”
To make it work, it’s essential that the process for the growers is simple.
“We are making sure that whatever research we do, it is feasible at a grower’s level. You don’t need the high technology of a laboratory or tissue culture or something that is not easy or approachable for the growers. We are trying to develop a protocol or design a technology that a grower can easily adopt at their farm level.”
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