Dr. Dmytro Yevtushenko is passionate about his work with potatoes. “I love them,” the University of Lethbridge researcher says. “They contain lots of nutrients and are key to global food security.”
Of course, Yevtushenko’s positive sentiment toward spuds isn’t all that surprising. The Ukraine-born plant biologist has spent most of his 25-year career in academia and private industry studying how to improve the yield and quality of potato crops. That work has culminated in his current role as the University’s Research Chair in Potato Science, which is funded by a $1 million investment from the Potato Growers of Alberta, McCain Foods, Lamb Weston and Cavendish Farms.
When Yevtushenko arrived at uLethbridge in 2016, he found an ideal location to conduct his research. With its thriving potato-growing industry, worth $1 billion annually, Alberta is home to nearly 200 varieties of potatoes. Their hardiness and high quality is attributed to the province’s altitude, abundant supply of water and climate (warm summers and cold, disease-killing winters).
Despite the importance of potatoes to Alberta’s economy, however, there are few researchers in Western Canada who are dedicated to further enhancing the success of the potato industry. In fact, many of the region’s experts hail from the United States and Europe.
Yevtushenko is building local knowledge and capacity in potato agriculture in two ways. First, he teaches a course on advancements in plant breeding and directs special attention to potatoes. Second, in his state-of-the-art lab, undergraduate and graduate students alike are working on a number of potato-focused research projects.
“By 2050, we will need to double food production worldwide or we'll face shortages,” says Yevtushenko. “Biotechnology will make a critical contribution, so we need to make sure the next generation is able to lead the way in this type of research.”