Concern about the lack of focus when it comes to variety selection and the implications for growers and consumers was a common theme at the recent Seed Industry Event at St Andrews.
While 10 years ago there were 120 varieties on the National List, there are now 175, according to managing director of B and C Farming Tony Bambridge, who questioned the potato sector’s progress in this area.
He said: “Out of that 40 per cent increase in varieties, how many of them actually provide benefit to the consumer or agronomically to the grower? My experience is that very few provide us with anything.
“Instead, more varieties create greater market segmentation, shorter production runs and an increase in the level of waste potatoes which do not hit their target market.
“The risk almost invariably ends up with people like me, the grower, and it increases my costs.”
James Truscott, managing director of potato suppliers Branston, suggested the range of varieties available throughout the year had also led to inconsistency for the end user.
“We are tightening down to a much tighter group of varieties now and I think that is exactly the right thing to do.”
In order to concentrate attention on only the best varieties, he said it was important not just to select for yield alone.
“Of course, marketable yield is a critical aspect of any variety, but in the past yield was a good enough reason to launch a new variety, irrespective of how it tasted.
“We should only bring in new varieties when we know they are materially better and that should not be a gut feeling, it should be measurable, you should know the customer prefers the newer product.”