Low Glycemic Potatoes, a value-added crop for Montana

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $154,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. David Sands
Montana State Univ

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: potatoes


  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, value added
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture


    The overall goal of our lab is to develop value-added crops with highly desirable nutritional attributes that are suitable for production in the state of Montana. This nutritional focus includes high-protein, gluten-free, and low-glycemic index crop varieties. The objectives of this proposal were to identify and evaluate low glycemic lines of potato that would be more suitable for consumption by individuals with diabetes Type II and associated health problems and to deliver the varieties to commercial growers (seed potato producers and market potato producers). We screened the starch profiles of over 110 varieties of U.S. potato and evaluated the agronomic performance of the most promising 10 varieties. After several rounds of agronomic evaluation in the MSU greenhouse, the pool was reduced to six varieties with the most promising starch profiles. Confirmation that the selected varieties are agronomically adapted to the northern plains took place during the 2015 growing season.

    There are two distinct industries for potato production in the U.S. First, there are the certified seed potato producers with a primary focus on production of disease-free seed. Montana has an enviable seed potato industry that supplies certified seed potatoes to commercial potato producers across the U.S. Only cultivars that have been certified virus- and bacterial-free by the MSU Seed Potato Lab can be planted in Montana. (One of the six selected cultivars has already been released by the potato lab and is in production by four Montana seed producers. Certification of the other five is currently in progress. As soon as the cultivars are released, they will be field evaluated by commercial seed producers in Montana.) The second industry is production of potatoes for the fresh market and for the processed markets (optimum production is dependent upon high-quality, disease-limited certified seed potato).

    Each of the six lines was screened for the common viral pathogen PVY and then agronomically tested in experimental field plots in Williston, North Dakota and Parma, Idaho. The lines will be further increased this winter at California Polytechnic University (Pomona, CA) and test marketed. The primary marketing attribute of these potatoes is low glycemic index (starch profile) or glycemic load (total starch content) and will be the first option for market development. The marketing will focus on natural markets, farmers markets, and health markets. We are actively pursuing collaborations with diabetic support groups to command production and processing of lower GI crops (we have developed a similar collaboration with the American Celiac Society to strengthen introduction of Montana-produced gluten-free crops and products). The glycemic index of these potatoes will be lower than conventional potatoes, but the actual index has yet to be determined due to cost of human medical studies. The need for such testing is obvious and will increase production and demand. We continue to pursue funding for the human testing.

    Project objectives:

    The overall goal of this project was to develop low glycemic potato as a value-added Montana crop. The specific objectives were to:

    I. Identify low-Glycemic Index Potato cultivars that are adapted for production in Montana.

    II. Evaluate selected cultivars in field studies in collaboration with Montana seed potato producers and select the most-promising cultivars for seed production scale-up.

    III. Generate a feasibility analysis including economics of low GI seed and commercial potato production and estimated market demand.

    IV. Evaluate selected lines in greenhouse studies for disease susceptibility (year 1) and impact of agronomics on starch profiles (year 2 and 3).

    V. Evaluate selected cultivars in field studies in collaboration with Montana potato producers to determine the most-promising cultivars for low-GI potato production in eastern Montana. Work with producers to scale-up production to commercial levels. 

    VI. Evaluate cultivars in local and university taste studies (MSU, Extension, and Producers).

    Performance Targets.

    In our proposal, we designed a project consisting of a number of cascading objectives. Most of the objectives were premised upon completion of the preceding objective. This research project was not completed prior to the Western SARE award, and a number of roadblocks were encountered that altered the proposed timeline (i.e. development of a laboratory analyses to accurately predict GI, necessity of actual human GI testing to market product) or precluded modification of the research plan (i.e. field testing of the lines was done in ND and ID. We definitely underestimated the time necessary to introduce a new variety of potato to seed potato producers and potato producers and to develop markets and demand. The Tri-State Potato Breeding Program estimates that it takes 8-10 years to develop and introduce a new potato variety. We are well within this timeframe.

    However, we have identified low GI lines of potato. We will continue to work with farmers in the Northwest to scale-up production of the potatoes and seed potatoes. We will continue to work with the Montana Seed Potato industry to scale-up seed potato production in Montana and with Northwest potato producers to introduce production of the low GI potato (current demand for the low GI potato is in the garden industry and is not yet in the potato processing industry). Our collaboration with the health food industry and medical support communities will continue.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.