New Potato Helps Farmers Weather the Frost

In a country with more than 5,000 potato varieties, you might not expect the arrival of another one to be a big deal. But this is Peru, where the potato was first domesticated and still plays a vital role in national identity.

In Spanish you might call it patrimonio or orgullo; in English it translates to national pride or honor. However it’s phrased, for the people of Peru, the concept is forever entwined with the potato, a totemic symbol of the indigenous cultures and heritage of their country and the surrounding Andes.

Now, a trio of CALS scientists has helped extend this rich tradition by introducing a new, frost-resistant variety that can help Peruvian potato farmers contend with difficult growing conditions caused by a changing climate. It’s the latest outcome of a decades-long collaboration with Peruvian researchers that is still going strong.

The three UW scientists — John BambergAlfonso Del Rio, and Jiwan Palta — worked closely with researchers from Peru’s International Potato Center (CIP) and the Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agraria (INIA), and with Peruvian farmers, to develop the new variety, called Wiñay. The word means “to grow” in Quechua, one of Peru’s indigenous languages. The frost-resistant potato is long and thin with brown skin and yellow flesh and is grown for the fresh market. It was developed to be cultivated in Peru’s Altiplano at elevations of up to 14,000 feet above sea level.

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