'The need for new varieties'


05 September 2022
The combination of more variable rainfall and warming temperatures is likely to impact agriculture, and potatoes specifically, in a range of ways, says Antonia Walker, Bayer Campaign Manager for Roots.

The UK’s changing climate, with more sporadic rainfall and warmer temperatures, alongside increased threats from pests and diseases, highlight a need for new potato varieties better able to cope with increasingly challenging growing conditions.

“More mild weather will increase the risk of severe pest and disease damage while high-evaporation rates will require crops to be irrigated more frequently and for longer periods. Both will lead to higher production costs,” says Antonia in her online blog.

One consequence will be the need for varieties better able to cope with more challenging growing conditions, she says.

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“Take common scab (Streptomyces scabies) as an example. Maintaining the soil moisture balance can be a challenge in the best of times, but drier weather through the main growing months will make this more difficult. Add in the pressures of water reform and loss of abstraction volumes and growers will find that diseases they used to be able to control with relative ease will become a greater nuisance,” says Antonia.

Of the 324 varieties listed on the former AHDB Potatoes variety database, less than half (156) have a common scab disease resistance rating of 6 or higher. Maris Piper, the most widely grown variety in the UK, has a score of 1. For late blight (Phytophthora infestans) the situation is worse. Just 32 varieties have a resistance score for foliar blight of 6 or higher. In the absence of a maintained variety database from AHDB, the Scottish Advisory Service for Agriculture (SASA) has produced a database of European varieties that also has a wider range of criteria to support more detailed assessments.

“The uncomfortable reality is that we simply don’t have the range of varieties needed to meet the production challenges of the future. We desperately need new varieties with durable resistance to a broad range of pest and disease threats as well as tolerance to crop stresses such as drought and high temperatures. These traits will be essential if the industry is to prosper in an era of tighter regulation, fewer plant protection products and higher production costs,” says Antonia.

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