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In this section, read about selecting, storing potatoes and potato varieties.


History of the potato – the potato story

See the “International Year of the Potato” site for the history of the potato.

New Zealand facts

Potatoes have a huge role to play, not just in feeding New Zealanders, but also in feeding the world’s population and looking after the planet. Fortunately potatoes are a very efficient high-yielding plant, using less water than comparable crops, and are able to adapt to all sorts of growing conditions.

We are a nation of potato lovers and we efficiently produce enough potatoes both for ourselves and for export.

  • Potatoes are grown in all parts of the country with the principle growing areas being Pukekohe (just south of Auckland), Hawkes Bay (east coast of the North Island), Manawatu (lower North Island) and Canterbury in the South Island.
  • Production in New Zealand over the last 10 years has increased markedly even though the area under production has remained reasonably static. The percentage of crop targeted for processing has also increased significantly in the last decade to around 57%.
  • There are over 50 varieties grown in New Zealand. The main varieties are Russett Burbank, Innovator, Rua, Nadine, Agria, Moonlight, Desiree, Ilam Hardy and Red Rascal.
  • In New Zealand there are over 200 potato growers and the growing area is 10,591 hectares. Approximately one quarter of the annual crop is exported.
  • Around 525,000 tonnes of potatoes are grown annually. If the average size of a potato is 175g, this is approximately 3 billion potatoes. If all of those potatoes were eaten in New Zealand this would equal nearly 668 potatoes a year for every man, woman and child.
  • Fresh market potatoes can be grown and harvested all year round.
  • Most New Zealanders get around 30% of their vitamin C requirement from potatoes.
  • Potatoes make a significant contribution to New Zealanders’ diets because:
    – of their valuable nutrition status, e.g. vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals
    – of their accessibility to the population in terms of cost, e.g. good quality nutrition at a price most can afford
    – potatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in New Zealand.

World facts

The world’s population is expected to grow on average by more than 100 million people a year. More than 95 percent of that increase will occur in the developing countries, where pressure on land and water is already intense. A key challenge facing the international community is to ensure food security for present and future generations, while protecting the natural resource-base on which we all depend. The potato will play an important role in efforts to meet those challenges.

  • The potato produces more nutritious food, more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop.
  • Up to 85% of the potato plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals.
  • Potatoes produce more food per unit of water than any other major crop.
  • Potatoes are up to seven times more efficient in using water than cereals.
  • One hectare of potatoes can yield two to four times the food quantity of grain crops.
  • The potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption. More than a billion people worldwide eat potatoes, and global total crop production exceeds 300 million tonnes.
  • The world potato sector has undergone major changes. Until the early 1990s, most potatoes were grown and consumed in Europe, North America and countries of the former Soviet Union. Since then, there has been a dramatic increase in potato production and demand in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
  • Since the early 1960s, the growth in the potato production area has rapidly overtaken all other food crops in developing countries. Output has risen from less than 30 million tonnes in the early 1960s to more than 100 million tonnes by the mid-1990s. It is a fundamental element in food security for millions of people across South America, Africa, and Asia.
  • China is now the biggest potato producer and almost a third of all potatoes are harvested in China and India.
  • From 1997-2007 potato cultivation increased by 25% in developing countries.
  • Potatoes can grow from sea level up to 4,700 meters above sea level; from southern Chile to Greenland. They are grown in over 100 countries worldwide.
  • The potato belongs to the Solanaceae – or nightshade family of flowering plants, and shares the genus Solanum with at least 1,000 other species, including tomatoes and eggplant. However, the fruit and leaves of the potato plant are not eaten. The plant was taken by the Spanish to Europe in the 16th century and quickly spread across the globe.
  • Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, making them a good source of energy. They have the highest protein content (around 2.1% on a fresh weight basis) in the family of root and tuber crops.
  • Potatoes can have white, yellow, pink, red, purple, and even blue flesh. Yellow is primarily due to the presence of carotenoids concentrations, and the red, purple, and blue colour is due to anthocyanins. Both are antioxidants and believed to play an important role in preventing cancer and diseases related to ageing.

The potato should be a major component in strategies aimed at providing nutritious food for the poor and hungry. It is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labour is abundant, conditions that characterise much of the developing world.

For more information, see the International Potato Centre website.