Abi Ewen, a potato breeder with Cygnet PB and member of the AHDB Next Generation group told the AHDB potato conference that she and others from the group were looking hard at the future of the potato sector and the part played in it by Maris Piper.
Ewan Pate reports.
It had served the industry well over 50 years and was still very popular with consumers. Surveys had shown that 87% of people say taste is the most important attribute of a good potato and Maris Piper fitted the bill.
“It has served us well but its resistance to Globodera rostochiensis species of Potato Cyst Nematode has allowed a build-up of Globodera pallida species, especially where it is grow in a near monoculture,” said Ms Ewen.
“Maris Piper does not cope well with drought and has problems with common scab. Potatoes now use 60% of the irrigation applied in the UK. As eco warriors we have to consider use of water and nitrogen and react to the loss of chemicals when they come to be re-registered.”
As a breeder she knew that she had to produce varieties for the market with the supermarkets wielding the biggest influence. They were however slow to innovate. She regarded the processing sector as being "slightly more forward looking.”
Asked if a solution might be to gene edit Maris Piper to bring it up to date she said: “It would be possible but it would depend on consumer acceptability. I am not sure if the market is ready for it. Instead we are working on new ways of speeding up traditional breeding methods.”
The AHDB Potatoes New Generation Group is open to those in the 25 to 35 age bracket and has 45 past and present members.