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History of Potato Research

Mr. Garnet (Gary) Johnston (1916-2000)

Gary was born in 1916 and raised on a farm near Alma, Ontario. In 1935 he obtained a 1st Class Public School Teacher's Certificate and taught public school in North Wellington County from 1936-1941. In 1941 he enlisted in the RCAF and became Senior Armament Instructor in the Commonwealth Air Training Program in Canada. In 1943 he qualified for Air Gunner's Wing. His Air Force career ended at Gander, Newfoundland in August of 1945. In September 1945 he entered the Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph. In 1947 he received the Harcourt Bursary in Chemistry and in 1949 he graduated with a B.S.A. degree. In 1949 Gary received a Winter Wheat Research Fellowship to do research in the quality of winter wheat (in the Field Husbandry Department of the OAC under the guidance of the late Prof. W.H. Waddell). In 1951 Gary graduated with an M.S.A. degree. In 1951 Gary was appointed lecturer in the Field Husbandry Department of the O.A.C. and lectured on forage crops and did research on grass silage. In 1953 he was appointed Research Scientist with the Canada Department of Agriculture and was seconded by CDA to OAC. He took over the CDA potato breeding-testing work at Guelph with full faculty support and privileges. He was later transferred to the Horticultural Science Department. Gary's field work at Guelph was at the OAC Potato Farm, later re-named Cambridge Research Station. On-campus work was mainly done in the Horticulture greenhouses.

Gary has been an outstanding potato breeder. Among the varieties that he helped release are: Huron, Nipigon, York, Rideau, Trent, Simcoe, Yukon Gold, Longlac, Conestoga, Eramosa, Saginaw Gold, Red Gold, Rose Gold, Ruby Gold, Temagami, and Royal Gold. Nine of these are still grown by Ontario seedsmen. Yukon Gold has been the most successful release and has become quite popular in Canada, the U.S.A., Europe, and the Pacific Rim countries. The potato variety TRENT is presently being grown in Australia for the French Fry industry. SIMCOE is reportedly grown in France for the chipping (crisps) industry. RIDEAU is now increasing in the Homestead area of South Florida.

In addition, Gary served as Director of the Potato Association of America for three years and received an Honorary Life Membership. We have all benefitted from the potato breeding program directed by Gary. In June 2000, Gary received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Guelph for his contributions to Canadian Agriculture.

Gary was married in 1940 to Elsie Mae Barker (deceased). They had four sons and one daughter and have 9 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. Until his passing October 7, 2000, Gary still lived in Guelph and carried on potato breeding work.

Mr. Johnston's Work

This is a copy of an article Gary Johnston wrote in 1992. It summarizes his successes in potato breeding here.

Graduates from the Potato Breeding-Testing Program with the Horticultural Science Department University of Guelph, The Agriculture Canada Research Station, Fredericton, NB, and The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, and Food Co-operating.

In 1946 the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), the Ontario Department of Agriculture, (ODA) and the Canada Department of Agriculture (CDA)  agreed to co-operate in establishing a potato breeding program in Ontario to be centred in the Field Husbandry Department of OAC. The CDA agreed to second (post) a breeder to the faculty of the Field Husbandry Department. The major post of the filed work was to be done at the recently acquired (1946) OAC Potato Farm (now the Cambridge Research Station) near Preston and Hespeler (now Cambridge) In 1960 the program was transferred to the Horticultural Department of OAC (now re-named Horticultural Science).

The first “graduate” was released and licensed in 1956 and was named Huron*. Since then and to the present (1992) the following potato varieties in order have been released from the Horticultural Science Departmen, University of Guelph and Agriculture Canada: York*, Nipigon*, Trent, Longlac (purple skin), Rideau (red skin), Simcoe, Yukon Gold, Conestoga, Eramosa*, Saginaw Gold, Red Gold, and Rose Gold. In the final stages of testing and multiplication is G8610-4PY, and in honour of the Royal City of Guelph will be named Royal Gold, (deep purple skin and bright yellow flesh).

Some of these varieties e.g. Huron, Nipigon and York didn’t make the potato “hit parade” probably due to lack of promotion, scarcity of seed but most of all NOT being marketed by variety name. Yukon Gold was the first Canadian-bred potato variety to be promoted, packaged and marketed with its name right on the pack. It also received excellent promotion by the media and by magazines such as Harrowsmith (There’s gold in these hills) and by the American Vegetable Grower (front cover and article “Yukon Gold Goes Upstairs”). Yukon Gold is now grown not only in Canada (especially in PEI) but in several states of the USA and worldwide in several countries eg Japan, the Philippines, Algeria, Brazil. Rideau’s acreage in Florida is increasing. Simcoe is being grown for chips in France and Australia. A growing acreage of Trent is now also being grown for chips and French Fries in Australia. Eramosa (named for the Eramosa River) is rapidly gaining in popularity as a first early “ new” potato in the “banana belt” counties bordering Lake Erie. Some of the new varieties such as Red Gold and Rose Gold have still to find their niche in potato production and utilization.

The key to the potential rise in popularity of newly released potatoes is that they be promoted and sold by their variety name. For many years the consumer was able to recognize the long, russeted variety known as “Idaho Baker” (which was actually the Russet Burbank variety) as a quality baker and th California Long White (actually the White Rose variety) as a dependable boiling and salad potato. The consumers have associated red-skinned potatoes as resisting after-cooking darkening and excellent for salads.

As to the future, the potato breeding co-operative program at the Horticulture Science Department is investigating the possibility of producing “novelty” potato varieties, not only with coloured skin patterns but also coloured flesh patterns—combinations of yellow, red, blued and purple. Actually potato chip processors are quite interested in producing “party chips”.

In North America the co-operative potato breeding program at the Horticultural Science Department of the University of Guelph is rated among the top four successful programs, the others being the USDA potato breeding program centered at Beltsville, MD, the Canadian National Potato Breeding program centered at Fredericton, NB, and the potato breeding program of the North Dakota State University centered at Fargo, ND.

G. R. Johnston
Research Scientist (retired)
Potato Breeding