Carter is now the 4th generation Atkinson to be growing seed potatoes along with his father Marc. The seed potato business was started in the early 1920’s by Carter’s great grandfather Morley, followed by his grandfather Bruce around 1955 and later his father Marc.
The multi farm operation includes cow calf operations as well as a host of crops besides potatoes. The typical rotation of crops include potato, followed by barley seeded down with a legume such as alfalfa which is used for hay and pasture for 2 or more years. The primary potato crop is for seed to sell to the neighbours as well as further away across Ontario and even beyond. Adequate storage facilities with refrigeration allows Carter to keep the seed in a young physiological stage up to early June for the growers who wish to plant a late crop. All the large sized tubers from all seed lots are sold to local customers for French fry restaurants.
Atkinson Farms was one of the original growers to join the Ontario Seed Potato Growers Association as well as use the SPUD laboratory in New Liskeard to produce its nuclear seed to start the process of growing excellent high-quality seed for their customers. The primary varieties grown now are: Gemstar, Kennebec, Chieftain and SP327.
Congratulations to the Atkinson family for their legacy and continued example of growing excellent seed potatoes in a mixed farming operation.
Minitubers produced from pathogen free indexed tissue culture plants is the starting point in developing quantities of nuclear seed for further multiplication by certified seed potato growers. Charlie Warner, owner of Aidie Creek Gardens is a perfect example of how to do this. For many years he has dedicated one of his best greenhouses for this purpose. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency not only approves of his greenhouse being an insect and pest free inspected facility but also certifies that the crops grown each year are up to the standards required to pass as nuclear seed potatoes.
How is this done? The SPUD Unit in New Liskeard multiplies the tissue culture plants to the total number needed for each variety to meet the orders received from the growers. In July the desired number of plantlets are delivered to Aidie Creek Gardens. In 2022 Charlie received a total of 1669 magenta jars with 24 plantlets each of 9 varieties. Trays are prepared with the desired substrate and fertility. The invitro plants are cut into 3 pieces: Apical 2 nodes, central 2 nodes and the base with roots. These cuttings are each placed in trays in July (Picture 1). Rooting takes place in 7-10 days for the Apical and central node cuttings. Crop management includes watering, some additional substrate to the trays and close monitoring for insects and diseases (Picture 2).
Harvest of the 1136 trays in 2022, takes place in early November. Yields will vary depending on the variety and also on the type of cutting grown. On average Aidie Creek Gardens harvests up to 1 pound of minitubers/tray. These are suberized and bagged and provided to the SPUD Unit for further sizing and storing in cold storage (Picture 3). These are them sold to the growers who ordered them. Charlie charges a fixed rate/ tray for his work and facilities.
This is an excellent example of a low cost practical way to produce minitubers for the needs of seed growers in Ontario and beyond. Thanks to Charlie Warner for being our wonderful example of how to do this (Picture 4)!
Plantlets are cut into 3 sections: Apical 2 nodes, middle 2 nodes and the base with roots.
Mid season growth of all plantlets from all 3 types of cuttings.
Karen harvesting and sorting minitubers from the trays.
Charlie Warner is a wonderful cooperator in multiplying minitubers for Commercial seed growers in Canada.
Thanks to the leadership and support of Sam Squire and Becky Hughes from OMAFRA, the Seed Potato Upgrading & Distribution (SPUD) unit was established in 1984 at the New Liskeard Agricultural Research Experiment station.
Over the past 39 years this excellent facility, gained a reputation from high quality early generation seed potato production for Ontario seed growers. With time, the facility diversified due to its great reputation and the high demand from other commodity groups more horticultural crops were added to its portfolio. The meristem culture techniques for obtaining pathogen free starting material, keeping the new growth to be true to type as well as multiplying the desired variety became the expected accomplishment of the highly skilled accomplishments of its staff. Since 1997 the administration has been through the University of Guelph.
Candy Keith in tissue culture room.
Sandra Seed is multiplying plantlets under a laminar flow to keep all pathogens away.
Since 2016, Candy Keith and Sandra Seed have been directing the SPUD Unit. In 2022 with their fabulous team, they have handled the following crops with the approximate time allocation to each being: potatoes (35%); Strawberries and Raspberries (30%); Garlic (20%); Asparagus (10%) and together Hazelnut, Haskap, sweet potatoes (5%). In the greenhouse and screenhouse the time is evenly distributed amongst Potatoes, Berries and Garlic. One of the advantages of having multiple crops is that each has a different time period for maintenance and propagation purposes allowing the staff to be “busy” all year!
The SPUD unit has acquired a new meaning for the acronym: Superior Plant Upgrading & Distribution Unit as it entails many other crops besides potatoes. The demand for its services continues to grow as its excellence is well known for producing high quality starter material for all the crops listed. May both the different crop organizations along with OMAFRA and University of Guelph work together to move this work into new “state of the art” facilities on the new campus of the New Liskeard Agricultural Research Experiment Station!
Sam’s career was punctuated by many achievements that raised up the Ontario potato sector. The impact of his work is impossible to measure unless you talk to all the people he supported with his field work, wise counsel and diligence to detail.
As a University of Guelph graduate in 1965, Sam made an early mark by spotting the potential of a yellow-fleshed potato developed by Gary Johnston. His genius was to get this variety registered by the National Potato Committee in Ottawa. At the time, no one realized that the Yukon Gold potato would become a household name for its smooth, eye-free skin but just as importantly, its unique, tasty flesh.
The Yukon Gold potato was the first Canadian-bred potato variety to be promoted, packaged and marketed with its name right on the pack. Without doubt, its versatility for boiling, baking, frying, grilling, pan frying and roasting, is what revolutionized the potato aisle at North American grocery stores.
The grand opening of the new “state of the art” potato seed storage and handling facility was a very successful event with around 50 industry people attending. Duane Holm and Jacco de Lange are the partners of this new seed potato company.
The benefits of storing seed potatoes in boxes were outlined by Duane Holm and Jacco de Lange. They explained how the unique Klim Top Controls ventilation system from France will control temperature and humidity to optimize the seed storage conditions to supply ideal physiologically conditioned seed to their buyers.
Construction will be completed soon and then filled with 250 acres of seed potatoes by October.
There was a display of a good quality new and standard varieties produced by the Sauble Creek Seed Company as well as by Atkinson farms and Squirrell farms. The event was co sponsored by the Ontario Seed Potato Growers Association (OSPGA). The association’s new mission is to support new large and modern seed potato production operations to meet most of the seed potato needs for all commercial growers in Ontario.
It was a great day to see the Ontario Seed Potato Growers Association taking the provincial seed industry up to the next level!