The Story of Virus Tested Seed Potatoes

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03 March 2022
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John M Marshall describes post war farming and the transformation of the potato industry

JOHN Marshall, my father, was not from a farming background, his father owned a haberdashery in Falkirk. John wanted to return to his past family roots and studied agriculture first in Glasgow then Edinburgh. He excelled, achieving two gold medals. Following a job as an economic advisor, he took up a tenancy on a farm near Auchterarder before purchasing Dalreoch near Dunning in Perthshire just before the outbreak of WW2. The Government was much quicker to respond with plans to produce food than during WW1 when, towards the end, there were rocketing prices.

 

Potatoes promoted by Potato Pete were at the forefront of the dig for victory campaign. We had been importing more than 60% of our food and with German u boats prowling UK waters, torpedoing the grain convoys from the US was a constant threat. Britain desperately needed home-grown food.

 

At this time, he would produce his high-grade seed, SS Grade, on strenuously-rogued fields on a farm at Milton of Craigie near Pitlochry, which was free from aphids and far away from other crops. He would bring the seed, all Majestic, to the lower farm at Dalreoch, multiplying up on a commercial scale for other seed growers.

 

After the war, one hot day, he was exhausted with rogueing and needing a break but wanting to finish when a gentleman in a raincoat and a fedora, whom he called “a townie” leaned over the gate and shouted “pull the good ones out”.

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Rather than shout back, he approached him for a discussion. It turned out to be Dr McIntosh, Head Scientist at the Department of Agriculture East Craigs. He explained what he had in mind: The introduction of another grade virus tested seed initially from one visually healthy clone.

 

The Department had already tackled the variety mix, wart disease and severe viruses such as Y and Leafroll could be easily seen by the eye but the low-level mild infections of virus x were elusive. The build-up, once in the commercial crops, was adversely affecting yields.


To read our fuller feature, see the March issue of Potato Review. You can subscribe here.

 

 

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