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Private potato breeder Andre Gagnon at work at his research facility in Quebec.
Three years ago, Quebec’s Andre Gagnon and 10 other potato breeders located across the country got together to form the Canadian Private Potato Breeders Network (CPPBN). Their goal — to forge a stronger, collective voice.

“We are quite isolated,” says Gagnon, president of potato research firm Progest. “That’s why we started this network, to work together.”

Fellow breeder Peter VanderZaag, owner of Sunrise Potato in Ontario, feels there are exciting times ahead for Canadian potato researchers and breeders, but like Gagnon, stresses that teamwork is key. “We can’t have our heads in the sand. We can’t keep doing our own thing — we need to work together,” he says. “That’s what the network’s all about, and we want to do more collaborative work with other institutions in Canada as well.”

Now the CPPBN is working on getting a bigger say in how new potato varieties are developed and evaluated in Canada. While private breeders play an important role in potato research and development in this country, much of this work is done publically through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, N.B.

The CPPBN is calling for a shift in focus for the publicly funded potato program that would allow private breeders to take on a greater R&D role. “We think the AAFC should only focus on basic, upstream research and pre-breeding, and should help support us in doing the next steps beyond that,” says VanderZaag, adding that public researchers have the expertise and indispensible assets like the potato gene bank at their disposal that make them better suited for the lengthy, complex work involved in genetic research.

“We feel that the genetic resources that they have and the upstream research that they’re doing is extremely valuable to help us be more effective applied breeders,” VanderZaag says. Private breeders, he adds, are very well equipped in the area of applied or downstream research, but “where we’re handicapped is the molecular part of the equation.”