With great power comes great responsibility

Monday, July 26, 2021
1:30 PM - 2:00 PM


Joshua Parsons, FritoLay

With all the promises of diploid potatoes, there is understandably interest in the private sector.  When PepsiCo looks at potato breeding, we have a history of success, and a dedication to continuing that success.  I would argue our success at the tetraploid level goes back to some very good decisions made by my predecessors, as well as a laser focus on making chipping potatoes and understanding exact global needs of the company.  Pairing this focus with good, direct relationships to our growers, we have a history of developing varieties advantaged to both grower and processor.  What we need to deliver now is changing though, and it is getting more complex vs. simpler.  Along with excellent quality and agronomy there is a requirement to support new and emerging markets globally, new pest and disease challenges, restricted chemical use, sustainability goals, supply resiliency, and supply agility, and of course to do it faster (yesterday is preferred to today, and don’t even mention tomorrow).  Each new ask is in addition to what has already been achieved and with tetraploid potatoes, it is difficult to maintain baselines, much less make significant progress.  Private industry looks at the promises of diploid potatoes and sees opportunities to make much more progress with potato varieties than we can at the tetraploid level.  When looking at investing in tetraploid breeding, it is a hard proposition given the unpredictability of the outcome, the lengthy timelines for commercialization, and challenges associated with complex targets (late blight resistance, consumer quality beyond appearance/sugars, yield, water use efficiency, etc…).  With diploid inbred-hybrid breeding comes line of sight to new varieties adding value to companies through supply efficiencies, resilience, consistency, sustainability, increased yield and disease resistance for our growers, etc… The difficulty with the increased visibility is then delivering on the ask, and doing so with a speed that meets aggressive business timelines and needs.  Once the proof-of-concept diploids in development now deliver success in trials, the entire potato industry will redouble their interest.  The transition to diploid inbred-hybrid breeding will likely be much more attractive to industries and growers at driving more change and investment for specific targets.  As the potato community as a whole explores changing the course of potato breeding to diploid approaches, it should be recognized this is a significant effort that one company (or group) cannot accomplish alone.  Significant challenges face diploid inbred-hybrid potato breeding including developing germplasm, assessing and introgressing fertility, ensuring all the traits needed are present, understanding how best to trial true seed varieties, how to certify true seed varieties, how to ship true seed globally in a safe and efficient manner, and how to advance the potato community quickly with minimal risk.  What is needed is partnerships between all parties involved in potato research, production, and processing, and as the technology and process evolve toward success, we should all be ready and open to explore new ways of working together.