Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Farmers Hope New Spud Is One Hot Potato; University of Florida Scientist Helps Develop Low-Calorie, Low-Carb Variety

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Farmers Hope New Spud Is One Hot Potato; University of Florida Scientist Helps Develop Low-Calorie, Low-Carb Variety

Article excerpt

Byline: terry brown

One potato, two potato, three potato, four. But a new crop of potatoes has some St. Johns County farmers screaming "more!"

The SunFresh growers cooperative, five farmers from the agricultural triangle of St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler counties, were looking for a new spud to help jump start a sagging market. The farmers set some high standards for what's usually seen as a misshapen, earthy-colored clump piled high in grocery store produce sections.

The potato had to taste good and it had to have a nice appearance for the consumer, they thought. So they sought help from scientists at the University of Florida's Hastings Research Center. What grew from that partnership -- a potato with less calories and fewer carbohydrates than normal potatoes -- could become the hottest tuber to hit the market in years.

The new spud couldn't have come at a better time for SunFresh growers. During the past few years, farmers watched their profits shrink faster than waistlines as the potato market took hit after hit from the low-carb diet craze sweeping the country, SunFresh director Danny Johns said.

The growers turned to Chad Hutchinson, director of the Hastings Research Center, in their quest to uncover a new variety of potato that would grow well in Florida's sandy soil and one that could help refocus the market on a fresh grown product that did not spend months in storage before reaching produce aisles.

Hutchinson researched about 400 different varieties of potatoes and came upon a type of seed produced by Dutch Company HZPC that thrived at the Hastings center.

What happened next was pure happenstance. The growers picked what they thought was a great-tasting spud and turned it over to the research center to provide nutritional analysis. A week later, the growers couldn't believe what they were hearing -- 25 percent fewer calories and a whopping 30 percent fewer carbohydrates. The combination was a potential gold mine for potato growers that pump an estimated $60 million into the economy of the tri-county agricultural area.

"A low-carb, low-calorie potato was the excellent marketing tool the growers needed to become profitable again," said James Marion White of the University of Florida. …

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