Potato farmers want robust varieties

Potato farmers want robust varieties

As the use of crop protection has been massively reduced, the potato industry now wants to focus on more robust varieties. The industry has even concluded a target agreement with the federal government. This is ambitious: By 2040, robust varieties are to grow on 80% of potato cultivation areas.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The reduction pathway for crop protection is a challenge for the potato industry. It calls for a 50 per cent reduction in the use of crop protection by 2027, with vegetable cultivation being particularly affected. However, agriculture is also dependent on crop protection in potato cultivation - «both in conventional cultivation and in organic production», writes Swisspatat in a press release.

In the «Bauern Zeitung», vegetable gardener Thomas Wyssa from Galmiz commented on the situation: «Potato producers are already reducing the area under cultivation or even giving up altogether». And this is unlikely to change any time soon: Because after several very difficult growing years for potatoes, seed potatoes are now also in short supply throughout Europe.

80% of the areas should be robust varieties

In order to maintain potato production despite this, the potato industry wants to focus more on robust varieties in future. As reported by «Schweizer Bauer», the industry, together with the Federal Office for Agriculture (BWL), has set itself the goal of cultivating robust varieties on 25 per cent of the land by 2028. By 2040, it should even be 80 per cent. «The entire potato sector, including production, trade and the processing industry, is behind the agreement», writes Swisspatat.

Robust varieties are, for example, resistant to late blight, which can result in major yield losses or even total failure when infected, or at least have a certain tolerance. This should make it possible to reduce the use of fungicides. This is highly desirable because the copper used to treat late blight does not degrade but accumulates in the soil.

New varieties give hope

The results of a research project carried out by Swisspatat and Agroscope confirm this: the number of fungicide applications on robust potato varieties can be reduced by over 50 per cent. «Robust potato varieties, together with tools such as forecasting models, can make an important contribution to reducing the use of plant protection products», according to the Swisspatat press release.

However, there is one problem: breeding robust varieties takes an enormous amount of time. According to Swisspatat, it takes 12 to 15 years for a newly bred potato variety to reach the market.

One of the reasons for this is the numerous requirements that new varieties have to fulfil. These include conditions such as heat and drought tolerance, storability, processability into potato products, susceptibility to viruses during propagation and resistance to diseases.

The media reports ignore the fact that new breeding technologies such as genome editing also represent an opportunity to breed more robust varieties and increase yields. These massively accelerate the breeding process. The Swiss Farmers' Union has also recognised the potential of new breeding technologies in view of the massive reduction in plant protection products and is open to them.

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