Mini-tubers, produced through aeroponics, await harvesting.
Mini-tubers, produced through aeroponics, await harvesting.

A novel propagation process developed in Peru could help Cornell University speed the development of disease-free potato seed stock.

Keith Perry, associate professor of plant pathology and director of the New York State Foundation Seed Potato Program, has been working on what he calls a promising program for the past three years, according to a news release.

The technique, known as aeroponics, involves growing potatoes with their tuber-producing stemps suspended in dark, enclosed plastic-covered chambers.

Misters on timers regularly moisten the stems.

During 70 to 90 days, the plants produce dozens of mini tubers, which are handpicked once they're the size of a quarter. This stimulates new tuber growth.

Each plant may yield up to 5 pounds, or about 10 times that of typical potted plants.

This also helps ramp up new potato varieties and gets them planted in the field quicker.

Typically, seed potato production begins with test tube cultures, which are transferred to greenhouses once they're tested and found free of pathogens.

During the first year, the plants are raised in peat moss or soilless media to produce mini tubers.

At Cornell, the mini-tubers are then grown in isolated fields at the Uihlein Farm for two successive years before being released to growers.

Seed growers then cultivate them for another two to three years before selling them commercially.

The initial steps are the most specialized and expensive. They also are constrained due to greenhouse space.