YORK, Pa. -- A good French fry or potato chip comes from a rich background.
And that starts with good soil.
While finding the right dirt might seem easy, many factors go into growing a good potato. Irrigation is a big deal. Too much or not enough water can make or break a potato plant. Additionally, the sun can be a friend and enemy to the potato.
Finding the right balance forces a grower to gamble on planting times. Sowing seed potatoes too early in the season can mean the crop won't store well. Yet if the crop is planted late in the season, hot summer weather can be destructive.
The good news is, research in the potato field is constantly growing. That means hardier varieties are on the way. And so far, they're bred the old-fashioned way.
"We are breeding potatoes conventionally," said Bob Leiby, a crop consultant for the Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers, which works with Penn State University to find new potato varieties. There are no commercially available genetically modified organism potatoes in the United States, he said.
Mr. Leiby was recently at a meeting with more than 50 commercial potato farmers from southeastern Pennsylvania to discuss the latest industry news and share ways to grow a better potato crop.
Trials are under way to develop a blue potato that's high in antioxidants, and another variety that has an orange flesh and is high in vitamins, he said.
Hopefully, new breeds of potatoes will be more heat tolerant and -- especially for the commercial grower -- require fewer pesticides, he said.
"We recommend people buy certified seeds," said John Rowehl, Penn State University extension educator in the York County office. In this instance, the term "seeds" means pieces of potatoes that are cut into small sections and planted in the ground, he said.
Dru Peters, of Sunnyside Farm in Newberry Township, said the 10-year-old business grows lots of potatoes as part of a community-supported agriculture program.
"We grow from organic stock and don't put any chemicals on them," she said.
Raising chemical-free potatoes isn't easy, but it's worth the work, she said.