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Unique potato varieties showcased at Sunrain open house

Some 60 different "unique and proprietary" varieties of potatoes shared the limelight at an Aug. 13 open house at .Sunrain Varieties LLC in Idaho Falls, ID.

The company, which was formed about six years ago as a partnership of Potandon Produce LLC in Idaho Falls and Toronto-based Earth Fresh, specializes in development of potato varieties of all sorts and the production of potato seed.

02-SunRainPhoto 02 Mel Davenport, president of Sunrain and co-COO of Potandon, and Aaron Derbidge, Sunrain business manager, at the Aug. 13 Sunrain open house.Sunrain was initially "a holding company for varieties that Potandon and Earth Fresh in Canada were both using jointly across North America," said Mel Davenport, president of Sunrain and co-chief executive officer of Potandon. "We formed the company to do our seed production and hold all our varieties and also do grower seed for our production farms. Then, as we got through that process, we decided to expand it some, and we have changed the company's structure a little bit. The company now does the same function for anybody on the outside, too."

Sunrain is "the holder of all the license rights" of potato varieties of all types "that we have brought from all over the world," Davenport said. "The real core focus of the business is to own proprietary varieties from around the planet" that constitute "the best varieties of potatoes" there are.

"We are trying to set up a structure that allows us to bring new potato varieties to the market that are healthy and that add new taste and characteristics to the consuming public," Davenport continued. "We are trying to bring something new to the market and make the potato category exciting."

The 60 or so varieties of potatoes displayed at the open house included potatoes of a wide range of sizes, shapes, types and colors, with names as varied and colorful as the potatoes themselves -- everything from Blue Belle, Jelly and Huckleberry Gold to Potandon 79, Sunrain 12 and PORO2PG76-5. Most are for the fresh market, but chippers are also included in the mix.

Besides selecting and developing existing potato varieties brought from all parts of the world, Sunrain is now also involved in breeding new varieties.

It is a long process. Just bringing an existing variety into commercial seed production takes five years. Breeding new varieties takes twice as long to go from lab to commercial seed production.

"It is not a short-term payback by any means," Davenport said.

"We are very proud of what we have done here," he said. "It is a good start, but we have a long way to go. We expect to do better and better at what we are doing. We are trying to get better at it every day."

Sunrain has "a wonderful staff of people here managing the business," he said.

The company purchased the farm on which its breeding and seed development facilities are located just over two years ago. The main building has been open a little over a year. In addition, "we've got six greenhouses," a screen house and a storage facility, Davenport said. "It is all strictly dedicated to potato multiplication and to making the potato industry getter."

Unlike university potato breeding programs, "we are going to be looking at everything from a market perspective," being "more directly involved in the market than the people n the university system," he said.

Also unlike most other potato breeding programs, "we are looking at potatoes from all over. We have brought potato varieties to North America from every continent except Africa and Antarctica, so it is a much bigger diversification" than other programs. "Hopefully over time it will allow us to open up new consumer avenues to the potato market."

Sunrain is "trying to bring things to the consumer that aren't available today" and to get consumers "excited about potatoes," he said. "Consumption of potatoes is going down per capita, and we would like to see it turned the other way."