A prolific plot of potatoes at Palmer's Alaska Plant Materials Center (PMC) might be one of the best-kept agricultural secrets in the state.

“This is my favorite time of year,” said Christine Macknicki, who leads the center’s Potato Program. “You get to see how everything did in the field and assess your management practices, make sure you watered it the right times and put down the right amount of fertilizer.”

Their annual fall harvest produces quite a haul, with 240 varieties to dig up and bag for winter storage.

“Crackle Butter Ball, Cascade, Atlantic, Superior,” Macknicki listed off.

“It’s that shock of people saying, ‘There are that may potato varieties?’ When they go to the store and see a few russets, a few yellows, a few reds, none by name or variety. To come out here and see this quantity of potatoes and the diversity of the genetics out here is pretty amazing,” said Rob Carter, the PMC manager.

There’s a science behind these spuds. For more than 30 years, staff have been testing tubers to see how well certain varieties fare in Alaska's colder climate and shorter growing season.

“We feel really confident that the seed that is produced in Alaska is of the best quality and probably the best price,” Macknicki said.

It’s also an effort to promote healthy crops and food security. Each potato strain has been tested and certified before it’s available for farmers to mass-produce.

“A lot of potatoes contain viruses and bacteria that can be transmitted through shipping and importing material. This material stays here, stays clean and is accessed by everyone throughout the state,” Carter explained.

The potatoes are available for everyone from commercial growers to home gardeners. Call up the PMC at 907-745-4469 and staff can tell you the best potato for frying, baking or mashing.

The team collected a bag of each that will be stored and used for planting next season. The rest of the potatoes were donated to local food banks and shelters.

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