Tiny tubers aren’t ‘small potatoes’

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – A Clemson University scientist at the Coastal Research and Education Center hopes some tiny tubers will become more than “small potatoes” for farmers.
Potato farmers once threw away the “runts” of the litter – 2 inches in diameter or smaller – when buyers wanted the man-sized bakers or “new potatoes” that were just right for adding to the green beans, according to Richard Hassell, Clemson Extension vegetable specialist.
However, over the last 10-15 years chefs at fine restaurants and growing numbers of consumers have discovered that small, or “gourmet,” potatoes can be quite tasty.
Potential. Gourmet potatoes offer excellent profit potential, bringing anywhere from four to 10 times the price that regular potatoes bring.
For the last three years Hassell has been looking at what it takes to grow gourmet potatoes near the coast, using varieties developed in the private sector and university and USDA breeding programs.
“I think we’ve got the watering, the fertility and the mulch worked out,” he said. “We know the right spacing, when to plant and when to harvest.”
Types. By 2007 he expects some farmers to begin growing the potatoes.
Hassell looked at three types of small potatoes this year. One has red skin and dark yellow flesh.
“We have a French fingerling – so called because the shape is something like a finger – which we are going to call a Carolina fingerling,” he said.
“It is yellow with a red stripe inside. It’s a real eye catcher on the plate.”
The third one has white skin and red flesh.
“Next year we’ll start looking at different colors of potatoes – purple, yellow, blue. You name it, we’re going to look at it,” Hassell said.
Natural fit. Hassell thinks the potatoes would be a natural fit for tomato and melon growers.
They could clean up their mulch after the fall crop and reuse it for a February planting of potatoes.
White or reflective mulches provide the coolest soil temperatures.
“You need cool temperatures to set the dark skins,” Hassell said.
He thinks that locally grown gourmet potatoes would be welcomed by high-end restaurants and specialty markets.
“All it would take to fill the niche is the demand from the consumer,” Hassell said “We will have the educated growers.”

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