Historical synopsis of the Seed Potato development in Ontario from 1966-2016 and the role of Sam Squire.
This is my history, and I am still active in it at 84. I graduated from OAC ‘65, from the University of Guelph. Working with Campbell Soup Company as Agricultural Research Assistant , involved field testing of potato lines bred by future famous potato breeder Gary Johnston, including Yukon Gold. Gary asked me to present Yukon Gold to the National Potato Committee for registration in Ottawa as the first yellow-fleshed potato ever registered in Canada. In 2016 Yukon Gold was celebrated along with breeder Gary Johnston. Yukon Gold was one of the two most innovative discoveries at the University of Guelph in fifty years.
In 1977 as Provincial Potato Specialist my mandate was to improve the Ontario Seed Potato system. Isolation is most important to keep seed potatoes clean. The area along highway 11 from Huntsville to Cochrane was chosen. Dr. Bud Wright of Agriculture Canada, the father of understanding potato virus transmission had already proven isolation was the key in restricting virus infection. For many years we got seed potatoes grown in Pemberton BC to test in our isolated areas in Ontario. The seed was always vigorous and free of visual disease. The Ontario seed potato growers requested the Province to provide them with a seed potato farm, which was turned down. But when the national seed regulations changed to seed potatoes only from disease-free tissue culture, Ontario built the SPUD Unit (Seed Potato Upgrading and Distribution) which opened in 1985 at New Liskeard Agricultural College. I worked closely with the then Manager Becky Hughes to develop the best minituber seed production methods with assistance of several private Northern Ontario greenhouse owners. With tweaking, these are the same methods used today.
In 1988 the then Dean of OAC insisted Ontario Seed Potato Growers Association start financially supporting the SPUD Unit annually. The seed growers started their support with $4000 paid annually.
Subsequently, a binding contract was drawn up. The Seed Growers Association would sell minitubers ordered by the growers for $15/lb They would pay the SPUD Unit and the private greenhouses certified by CFIA to produce nuclear minitubers. Take 20% of total sales to run the Association and the balance was sent to the SPUD Unit each year. The Annual contribution soon rose to $15,000 annually. Also the OMAFRA provided the Association with an annual $40,000 grant for about 20 years.
Becky Hughes, who retired as manager of the SPUD Unit in Nov 2016, had done a masterful job of managing the SPUD Unit as well as adding other grower groups like berries, garlic and others. These new crops required different techniques in tissue culture. In 2016, after 31 years this certified tissue culture lab is judged by CFIA as one of the best in Canada. We have two isolated seed potato growing areas where planted potato minitubers can be kept free of visual virus for further increase with seed growers surrounded by commercial potato growers.
Dr. Peter VanderZaag, a commercial grower as well as a private potato breeder uses the SPUD Unit to clean up his promising seedlings to disease free tissue culture and produce minitubers of promising lines. Some of these are now registered varieties and multiplied by theSPUD Unit.
The University of Guelph motto is: "Changing lives improving life". With my OAC degree, I could walk in the footsteps of great potato people and as they slowed down, encouraged me and taught me what they knew and to give me a hand up to serve the humble potato, which for me was a passion and privilege for 50 years.