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Potato growers invest in future capability

November 6, 2007

Potato growers invest in future capability

New Zealand’s potato growers are investing for the future by launching four new PhD research programmes for postgraduate students.

The Vegetable Research Manager for Horticulture New Zealand, Dr Sonia Whiteman, says all primary industries should be investing in science students to ensure they have available to them future scientists who will deliver improved technologies, new growing methods and innovative management practices.

The students will be recruited to work on specific projects with the country’s leading potato and potato disease scientists at Crop & Food Research.

“Next year has been declared International Year of the Potato by the United Nations to promote the potato crop as one that can help alleviate hunger and poverty,” says Dr Whiteman.

“New Zealand’s potato growers are 100% behind this initiative so the timing of the announcement of our investment in the potato pathologists, physiologists and breeders of tomorrow is most appropriate.”

All the projects are designed to help students to launch careers in horticultural sciences, with one of the programmes embedded in Crop & Food Research’s internationally-recognised breeding programme and supervised by Russell Genet, who has over 30 years experience breeding commercial varieties of potatoes, and by Tony Conner and Jeanne Jacobs from Crop & Food Research’s biotechnology team.

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Another of the projects focuses on potato water-use efficiency. The student who undertakes this project will have the opportunity to study closely the plant’s physiological characteristics that affect water use such as photosynthetic capacity, stomatal resistance, leaf canopy expansion etc.

Yet another of the projects will look closely at the molecular factors which control potato tuber expansion and eventual tuber size. Around the world, particularly in Britain, there is growing demand for gourmet potatoes of specific dimensions and such trends are expected to impact on other markets.

The fourth project focuses on the virulence of Rhizoctonia, a major pathogen of agricultural crops, responsible for canker and black scurf. This pathogen is of increasing concern to the commercial potato sector in NZ. The student will be working with Professor Richard Falloon and Dr Andrew Pitman from Crop & Food Research and will also be associated with the National Centre for Advanced Bio-Protection Technologies at Lincoln University.

Crop & Food Research General Manager Research Dr Prue Williams says the potato industry research and development investment group has shown commitment to the development of future capability in horticultural research.

“As scientists at Crop & Food Research, this is a great endorsement of the work we are doing and it ensures growers will have scientists available to support their industry well into the future,” Dr Williams says.

ENDS

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