July/August 2019 - 14
" Research by definition means you search again
and again. Sometimes you hit a winner and, in
this case, we have a winner that is desirable. "
- Jiwan Palta, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor
and a professor of horticulture,
compares the process to looking for a
needle in a haystack.
" Sorting out the offspring, you get a
bewildering number of possibilities to
select from, " Bamberg said. " Breeders
put out thousands and thousands of
progeny and select from them over
decades to find that one better one. "
Trial and error
The project began in 2005 using
progeny of a Wisconsin potato clone
that had good frost tolerance, yield,
tuber size and eating quality. The clone
carried the genes for frost hardiness
from a wild potato species called
Solanum commersonii, which can
survive temperatures as cold as 14oF.
The progeny of this clone was selected
in Wisconsin, but, when tested in frostprone
areas of the Peruvian Highlands,
it didn't perform well because the
Peruvian summer days are shorter than
in the Midwest.
" So Jiwan, John and I discussed using
some of the Peruvian potatoes we have
in the collection at Sturgeon Bay, " del
They subsequently chose seven
Peruvian varieties. After crossbreeding
with the Wisconsin frost-hardy clone,
they sent about 20,000 seed potatoes to
Peru for field trials at the INIA research
station in the southern city of Puno.
That was the first year of the project.
With each passing year, they evaluated
new progeny for the preferred qualities
and traits and narrowed the pool until
arriving at the one potato that came to
After 10 years of field trials,
through the culling process,
determining the final variety selection
and the naming of the potato, there
comes a time to celebrate.
In November 2018, in Puno, near the
shoreline of Lake Titicaca, del Rio, Palta,
John Bamberg, professor at the University
of Wisconsin, was one of the lead
researchers in developing the WiÑay variety.
and Palta's wife, Mari, participated in
the public introduction and celebration
of the Wiñay potato.
More than 200 students, farmers,
producers, scientists, and industry and
government officials attended the fourhour
fête, which concluded with the
distribution of Wiñay potatoes in brown
paper bags to all in attendance. Both
Palta and del Rio found the ceremony
to be an enjoyable opportunity to
recognize everyone's hard work.
" It's always heartening to see the
end result of your labor, " Palta said.
" Research by definition means you
search again and again. Sometimes you
hit a winner and, in this case, we have
a winner that is desirable. Scientists
(in Peru) have evaluated and feel good
about it. "
Along with the practical side of the
potato ceremony, del Rio said there is
a spiritual appreciation of the potato's
role in Peruvian villages.
" The farmers receiving the potatoes,
they appreciate whatever comes from
Mother Earth, and potatoes have been
such an important part in the life of
these communities that they appreciate
it very much, " he said.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of July/August 2019
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