11 September 1998

Blight-resistant types – its an uphill battle

FOR the second year running, heavy blight pressure has highlighted potato breeders ongoing difficulties in reconciling producers and end users needs.

Getting markets, particularly supermarkets, to accept varieties that are more blight-resistant is an uphill struggle, say experts.

"The potato market has always favoured varieties with consumer-friendly characteristics like good appearance and, to some extent, taste," says NIABs Simon Kerr.

"Disease resistance, which enables growers to reduce inputs, is academic from the consumers point of view. We believe firmly that it is the way to go, but currently it is under-used and under-exploited – and that applies not just to potatoes."

Few consumers appreciate how many pesticides are required to keep crops clean. But growing demand for organic produce and greater awareness of conventional production methods may see more emphasis on disease, particularly blight, resistance, he suggests.

"The problem is that when blight resistance is bred into a variety, other features often get in which make it unacceptable to one market or another," says MBM agronomist Tim Berry.

Genetic manipulation to insert specific-resistance genes without introducing market penalties could be the way ahead, he believes.

In conventional breeding, too much attention is paid to skin finish, which means growers are suffering, maintains Finlay Dale of the Scottish Crop Research Institute.

"Nematode and blight resistance should be far more important," he says. "Somewhere a balance has to be struck between the needs of producers and end users. And at the moment I am not sure the supermarkets are giving enough thought to growers."

POTATO DILEMMA

&#8226 Bad blight season.

Better resistance needed.

End users driving effort.

Cosmetic traits dominating.

GM technology far off.

POTATO DILEMMA

&#8226 Bad blight season.

&#8226 Better resistance needed.

&#8226 End users driving effort.

&#8226 Cosmetic traits dominating.