Graminor conducts plant breeding on behalf of the state in addition to representing foreign potato varieties in the Norwegian market. Approximately 25% of the seed potatoes sold in 2021 were of varieties from Graminor.
Potatoes are a versatile species with many applications and are traditionally important in the Norwegian diet.
Potato breeding for Norway
There are many considerations to keep in mind in order for a potato to thrive in the Norwegian climate and market.
It needs to be adapted to our short growing season where the summer days are long and bright with many hours of sunshine. It needs to have large yield potential, early ripening, and good storage capabilities.
We have cooler temperatures and other types of bacteria in Norway than are found further south in Europe. This is something that that needs to be kept in mind in plant breeding and representation, especially with regard to stem rot. Due to the humid weather in Norway, we also have to ensure that our potato varieties have good resistance to dry rot.
Norwegians have a taste in potatoes that is both deeply traditional, and at the same time innovative. Norwegians have a greater preference for red skinned potatoes when compared to other countries in Europe. Red potatoes form the principal part of the day-to-day diet, however, small, delicate yellow potatoes are used in particular dishes and often eaten at weekends.
Potato varieties are different from each other, and specific varieties are better suited to different segments. Some do better as regular food potatoes, and are the ones usually found in the grocery store. Others are best suited for French fries, while others are better adapted for use as crisps.
Crossings and selections are made with this in mind. We breed potatoes for specific uses. The breeding work is based on systematic registrations from previous crossings and the offspring’s results.
Marker-assisted selection (MAS) is a molecular biological method that has been used in European and Norwegian plant breeding for several years. The method involves finding the genes that show the traits of a variety, for example resistance to a specific disease. If these genes are found (which are called markers), then the least resistant varieties can be selected out at an early stage.
Previously, breeders had to leave all the varieties out in the field for several seasons and hope for the spread of disease to see which ones were strong and which ones were weak. Now it is possible to undertake a lot of this work in the laboratory with a leaf sample.
The crossings are made in a crossing tent inside the greenhouse. The tent is used in order to prevent insects from making unwanted pollinations in the potato plants. Potato varieties with desired characteristics are selected and crossed. The goal is to create new varieties with improved quality and resistance in addition to the properties the market demands.
Flowers are picked from the potato varieties that are to be used as fathers. The pollen is harvested from these varieties. The pollen carriers are removed from the flowers of the mother plants so that only the scar remains. After that, pollen from the father flower is applied to the scar on the mother flower. If the pollination is successful, the flower swells and becomes a seed apple.
The seed apples are the fruit of the potato plant. It can contain several hundred seeds after crossing. A selection of these seeds are then sown in our greenhouse. Graminor has the capacity to sow about 30,000 seeds, which in turn produce seed tubers. Many seeds can belong to the same family since they have the same mother and father. However, they are all genetically different, as siblings are. We make about fifty crossings a year.
All the seed tubers are put in the field. During the first year of harvest, approximately 15% of the best potatoes are selected for further experiments. The selection is made on the basis of what is called “Breeders Eye”, this is a visual selection based on colour, shape, shell quality and visible diseases.
Breeders Eye is both knowledge- and experience-based, where breeders make field observations every single year. Over the next years of field work we register yield, germination, maturation, flat scurvy, dry rot, stem rot and viruses.
Quality and resistance-tests
During winter we test the varieties for traits that are needed for crisps, French fries, food potatoes, sous vide and other segments. Much of the testing take place in our kitchen laboratory.
We also test for yield- and quality-analyses, washing traits, silver scurvy, flat scurvy and glycoalkaloids. In addition, skin colour, flesh colour, tuber shape and other distinct traits are registered.
It is important to register how resistant the different varieties are against various pests and diseases. Norway uses the least pesticides in Europe, but Norway aims to further reduce its pesticide use. To achieve this goal, robust potato varieties that are resistant to various diseases are needed. We register, among other things, resistance to foma, Fusarium, dry rot on rice, dry rot on tubers, flat scurvy, potato cancer, potato cyst nematodes and moptop virus.
Representation of foreign varieties
As part of our mission to offer the Norwegian farmer the best varieties for their local conditions Graminor also represent foreign potato varieties in the Norwegian market. We represent many of the major breeding companies in Europe. This close collaboration means that we have access to the varieties that we believe may be relevant for Norwegian producers.
All import done by Graminor is as disease free in-vitro plants. These are also tested at NIBIO, the Plant Clinic based at Ås, before they go to propagation.
Graminor’s propagation of potato varieties, whether our own or imported, take place at Overhalla Klonavlssenter in Namdalen. All propagation to the Norwegian seed potato industry takes place there. After three generations, the seed potatoes go to seed potato growers all over the country.
Meet the potato team