27 September 1996

Experts doubt skinless spuds role in market

REPORTS of a novel potato with a skin claimed not to set have been greeted with scepticism.

The variety, accredited to the efforts of Welsh farmer David Chappell, is said to retain its scraper status right through the winter, eliminating the chore of peeling and offering savings to crisp and chip manufacturers. Although it could fit into the niche market for out-of-season "new" potatoes, experts say its thin skin would make it unfit to store.

"Not unique?

"It may be unique, but I doubt it," says Simon Kerr of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany. Several late maturing varieties grown in peat, as the novel potato is said to require, do not set skins, he points out.

Dr Donald MacKerron of the Scottish Crops Research Institute has doubts about the new, as yet un-named, potatos value. "It could be troublesome. Skin has a value in keeping out disease and retaining water." With maincrops one of the keys to sound storage is to ensure a good skin set, he adds. "It might be very good for the fresh niche market."

"Storing it would seem an absolute disaster," says Chris Marshall of Cambs-based MBM Produce (Potatoes). "The question has to be how do we store it and stop blight getting in." The idea that it could be attractive to processors is a non-starter, he suggests.

"We also need to know a lot more about its other agronomic characteristics and how it eats. Thats absolutely crucial."