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The potato (Solanum tuberosum of the family Solanaceae), a native to the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes, was first cultivated in South America by the Inca Indians around 200 B.C. It was introduced into Europe in 1536 by the invading Spanish Conquistadors. Towards the end of the 16th century, sailors and their families began to cultivate potatoes along the Biscay coast of northern Spain. In 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland near Cork on the 40,000 acres of land given to him by Queen Elizabeth I. It quickly gained popularity, becoming a major crop in Ireland by the end of the 17th century. By the end of the 18th century, it invaded continental Europe, mostly Germany and parts of England. In 1621, the potato was introduced to the colonies when Nathaniel Butler, the governor of Bermuda, sent two large chests of potatoes and other vegetables to Governor Francis Wyatt of Jamestown, Virginia. By 1719, the first potato plots were established near Londonderry (Derry), New Hampshire. Back in France, King Louis XIV, along with A.A. Parmentier, was popularizing potatoes with new dishes. A.A. Parmentier conceptualized this idea when imprisoned in Germany and fed only potatoes. In 1767, Benjamin Franklin, ambassador to France attended one of Parmentier’s feasts. French-fries were first consumed in the U.S. when Thomas Jefferson served them in the White House during his presidency of 1801-1809. Meanwhile, in 1845-46, Ireland was suffering from the Irish Famine as a result of a fungus that destroyed all potato crops. The potato was the first vegetable grown in outer space in October, 1995. NASA and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, tested new technology to feed astronauts on long space voyages and eventually future space colonies, using a simple potato.



A potato plant is 50-100 cm (20-40 inches) high. Leaf arrangements are spiral, with 20-30 cm long leaves consisting of a terminal leaflet and two to four leaflets each 6-10 cm long. The ends of the underground stolons may enlarge to form a few to 20 tubers varying in size and shape, usually 300g (10 ounces) but with the potential to grow to 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds). The skin varies in color from brownish white to deep purple with a flesh of white to yellow, along with purple. The tubers have spirally arranged buds in the axils of aborted leaves. These buds then grown into plants identical to the plant that bore the tubers. Genetic alteration of desired characteristics is used commercially because of the great variation of results that occur naturally from a true seed.A serving size (one potato, 148 g) has 100 calories, zero cholesterol, no fat, Vitamin A, C, B2, Niacin, Riboflavin and Thiamin. Minor nutrients also consist of protein, amino acids and nicotinic acid.


Other Uses

Potatoes are one the most versatile vegetables found on Earth. However, they were once also used as other items besides food. During the Alaskan Klondike gold rush (1897-1898), potatoes were so valued for their vitamin C content that miners traded gold for potatoes. On the South Atlantic Island of Tristan de Cunha, potatoes were once used as the country's unofficial currency, because of the value of this remote food. Because potatoes were unknown to them, Europeans initially considered potatoes poisonous or evil due to the similarity to nightshade family. The nightshade family also included Mandrake and Belladonna used for medicinal purposes. Germany's King Fredrick William realized the potato to be a good food source and ordered peasants to plant and eat potatoes or have their noses cut off. Originally, the Incas had many other uses for potatoes, besides consumption. Raw slices were placed on broken bones to promote healing. Potatoes were carried around to prevent rheumatism and also eaten with other foods to prevent indigestion. Other folk remedies consisted of washing your facewith cool potato juice to treat facial blemishes. Frostbites and sunburns are treated by applying raw grated potato or potato juice onto the area. Toothaches are helped by carrying a potato in your pocket. Sore throats are treated by putting a slice of baked potato in a stocking and tying it around your throat. Ease aches and pains by rubbing the affected area with water that had potatoes boiled in it. Louis Lumiere used microscopic grains of potato starch on 9 by 12 inch glass plate to create and market the first autochrome in 1907. These autochromes were widely used in photography before the development of color film.


Production Trends

The United States Ranks 5th in the world Potato production. Russia, China, Poland and India are the previous four major growers of the world. In the United States, majority of the production occurs in the fall season, followed by spring and summer. The fall season potatoes are planted in the spring and harvested between September through November. Unlike many other types of produce, potatoes are well suited for long-term storage in specialized sheds. Potatoes that are not immediately sold after harvest are sold from storage throughout the remainder of the year till next season. Potatoes harvested in the winter, spring and summer seasons only account for 10 percent of the total U.S. production. These “new” potatoes play its own unique role in providing a supply of potatoes to fresh market consumers that have a preference for “freshly dug” potatoes. These “new” potatoes are generally round white and red potatoes that are slightly smaller in size. They are also a major component in supplying the chipping industry. In the late 1800s, potato production was centered around New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. With increasing population moving west, the potato followed, making Michigan and Wisconsin major producers in the early 1900s, but with New York as the leader till its takeover by Mainein the mid 1920s. Even with new competitors like Idaho, Colorado and California, Maine remained the leading producer until the 1950s when its Russet Burbank variety was out shined by Idaho’s popularity. Currently, Idaho, Washington and Oregon combined produce over half the U.S. crop of potatoes, most of which ends up being processed.

In 1999, 477 million cwt (1 cwt = 100 pounds) of potatoes were produced in the United States, with the western states making up more than two-thirds of the batch. Between 1866 and the early 1920s, the production of potatoes increased with expanding acreage, which reached its peak of 3.9 million acres in 1922. Acreage slowly decreased with time, eventually down to 1.4 million acres of a typical harvest today. Despite declining acreage, the production continued to trend upwards due to increasing yields. The average yield prior to the 1920s was about 50 cwt. In the 1920s, Luther Burbank was the first to make vast improvements in potato breeding. Yields began to soar in the 1940s to the current 300 cwt per acre which is at the national level. These current yields are the result of commercial fertilizer, improved cultural practices and extensive irrigation. Consumption TrendsIn the 1960s, domestic per capita consumption of fresh potatoes was 81 pounds, while processed potato products was only 25.3 pounds per person. Amongst the processed food, 7.6 pounds of frozen potatoes were consumed and chips and shoestrings accounted for 11.4 pounds. By 1965, the frozen product consumption surpassed the chipsand shoestrings and by 1971 all processed products surpassed fresh potato consumption. Fresh potato use declined reaching its final low at 45.8 in 1981, but rose to average about 49 pounds per year. While the fresh consumption declined, the frozen potato products continually increased. In 1999, the frozen potato usage peaked at 61 pounds per capita is due to the shift of the fast-food industry. Currently an average American eats 138 pounds of potatoes a year. Potatoes are the second most consumed food following milk products.



Starting from the 1980s, the popularity of frozen french fries increased in the Far East with the expansion of “American-style” fast-food restaurants. In 1999, the U.S. exported over 1 billion pounds of frozen fries, with half of the volume entering Japan alone. Major competitors for the french fry export market are the Netherlands and Canada. The U.S. potato industry also exports $257 million worth of potato chips, $85 million of fresh potatoes and $69 millions of potato flakes and granules. The primary markets for chips are typically Canada, Japan, Mexico and the European Union. Fresh potatoes predominantly reach Canada and flakes and granules are imported by Japan and the European Union.



With increasing exports, the United States has also expanded in the imports of the same potatoes that are being exported. Most of the imports are from Eastern Canada and used to feed the Eastern United States. The imports are beneficial due to the exchange rate as well as transportation cost advantages over competing firms in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, U.S. also imports fresh potatoes and seeds from Canada, but the numbers vary with the year due to the United States and Canada Free Trade Agreement (USCFTA). In 1999, 923 million pounds were imported, but imports have been known to reach lows of 401 million pounds in 1992.

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