New WSU potato varieties chosen for McDonald’s fries - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

New WSU potato varieties chosen for McDonald’s fries

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PULLMAN, WA - When it comes to potatoes, french fries are the big outlet for Columbia Basin farmers. And when it comes to selling french fries, McDonald’s is the holy grail.

So for Washington State University potato researchers Rick Knowles and Mark Pavek, having a new variety chosen by McDonald’s is a big deal. In September, the worldwide fast-food chain chose two relatively new varieties developed in part by WSU researchers.

“McDonald’s has expert tasters, kind of like with fine wine,” said horticulture professor Knowles. “Their gold standard potato for french fries is a Russet Burbank, which makes a great fry but is really inefficient from a production standpoint.”

A new variety can take 10-15 years to come to market from the time plants are first cross-pollinated, making it difficult to quickly replace a reliable yet inefficient potato. So when McDonald’s officially accepted the Clearwater Russet and Blazer Russet, everyone in the Tri-State Program rejoiced.

“These are the first two varieties McDonald’s has added from our program since 2000,” Knowles said. “And they only have seven varieties on their list now, four of which were developed by the Tri-State Program. They’re very selective.”

Since the announcement, Knowles said, the potato industry has ramped up production of seed for the two new russets because demand always increases when McDonald’s, the largest buyer of potatoes in the world, accepts a new variety.

The increase in production will help the Tri-State breeding program, which earns royalties on varieties it develop.

“Those royalties, split among the three universities and the USDA-ARS, will allow us to keep developing newer and even more efficient and nutritious varieties,” Knowles said.

And the Clearwater Russet comes with an unexpected, though nutritious, side effect: 33 percent higher protein concentration than Burbank.

“Potatoes are already very nutritious, with high levels of vitamin C and a good balance of amino acids,” Pavek said. “But Clearwater Russets are even better. It’s a nice little add-on to an already great potato.”