A collaborative study between University of New Brunswick researchers and the Agriculture and Agri-food Canada Potato Research Centre found a negative effect of climate change on multiple strands of potato crops.
Om Rajora, a UNB professor and researcher, and Xiu-Qing Li, a researcher at the AARC Fredericton Potato Research Centre, tested 55 potato strains for heat tolerance.
The yield of this strains were then measured by the weight of the largest individual potato. This showed that overall production was reduced by 93 per cent.
Li said the optimum temperature for potato growth is 18 degree celsius, a state that is becoming less common as summers get hotter. This, combined with the short Canadian seasons, is lessening overall yield.
“There is a genetic signal that gets inhibited at higher temperatures. It is not sending food or forming tubers,” Rajora said.
Among the lowest performers was the Russet Burbank variety, which is most used in french fry production. The researchers say that the poor performance of those potatoes could have a significant impact of the Maritime potato industry.
Li said his work with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, is making progress in trying to solve the problem.
“We at Agriculture Canada are working to understand the biology behind the heat sensitivity,” he said. “We try to identify the genes responsible for heat intolerance in potatoes.”
The researchers say that the solution to this problem could to a new genetic mixing technology: genome editing.
“There are other cultivars that are more heat tolerant, and we can try to develop new breeding lines,” said Rajora. “We have to identify the genes that are involved in that. That is our next step. Finding genes that respond to heat stress. Once we have those genes known, we can use modern technology called genome editing to improve heat tolerance.”
Rajora said he is optimistic that researchers can find a solution, but remains concerned about the state of agriculture with the warming climate.
“Time is essentially running out,” he said.