24 October 1997

More choice than ever

As markets become more fragmented choosing the right

potato variety to grow is more important than ever. Over the

following pages our special focus on potato varieties

considers the newcomers and some new trends in the seed

potato sector. Edited by Charles Abel

THERE are now more new potato varieties in NIAB National List trials than since at least the early 1980s.

Of the 38 being evaluated there is a balanced mix covering all market sectors.

"We have some promising new ones from a range of breeders which should give existing varieties a run for their money," says NIAB potato specialist Tom Dixon. "Some will provide growers with new market opportunities, some allow them to take on imports, and others now combine the sort of agronomic package needed for modern potato production with market appeal to satisfy existing customers."

Processors take an ever increasing share of the overall UK potato market. They are taking about 40% of the crop compared with 25% 10 years ago.

Chipping is the most dynamic of the processing outlets. At the high value end of the market demand for french fries cannot be met by home production out of season so allowing imports of prepared produce to come in. Each year about 640,000t of raw equivalent, or the level of last years surplus, came in through British ports. Mr Dixon says there is no reason why the UK should not be self-sufficient.

Traditional varieties have been used for a long time, the 30+ year old Pentland Dell has dominated the chipping scene for almost a generation. More recently the US-bred Russet Burbank, first grown almost 100 years ago, has become popular because of its burger link. More recent types grown for chipping include Maris Piper, popular with fish friers, and Shephody.

Early season chipper

"There is need for an early season chipping variety suitable for french fries to compete with imports," Mr Dixon says. "We think we have one. The German-bred Velox, which is in our trials for the first time this year, looks promising.

"It is early maturing and produces long oval tubers with similar fry colour to Premiere, the only first early which combines sufficiently high dry matter levels with the fry colour neded to satisfy the market. As Veloxs tubers are long and provide worthwhile french fries it could be used to steal a march on costly imports at the start of the season."

The early maincrop Shephody, which was bred in Canada and is marketed here by McCains, can be used for early to mid-season production. It has good early yields of large, very long oval tubers with a high DM. NIAB has seen nothing to challenge Shephody in the early mid-season slot.

It can also be used later, slotting in with Dell and another newcomer – SCRIs Spey. The Scottish variety is parti-coloured with long oval tubers which have a good uniform fry colour.

The other important processing market is crisping where, NIAB says, there is more variety upheaval than in any other sector. This is due to demands by Walkers, which now dominates the sector, for a pale coloured crisp with more "bite" than previously available. Crisping now takes about 25% of the total UK crop compared with between 15% and 18% 10 years ago, due to increased demand for snack foods.

Record decline

In the mid-1980s the sector was almost exclusively taken over by Record, which was used for over 90% of all crisping crops. Three or four years ago its dominant position was eroded when the market moved to a paler product. The final nail in Records coffin was sugar spotting, an internal disorder which affects crisp quality. Processors lost confidence in it, it now has less than 20% of the expanded market.

"No single variety has replaced Record. The vacuum has mainly been filled by Lady Rosetta, Saturna, and Hermes. There are lots of promising newcomers to expand choice as a quarter of all the new varieties in our trials have potential for crisping."

Lady Rosetta, a red type, gives high marketable yields of tubers with a uniform shape, high DM, and good fry colour. The Austrian-bred Hermes has reasonable resistance to tuber blight. It gives a constant pale fry colour, meets the quality criteria demanded by processors, and has good blight, scab and virus resistances.

Promising pair

Mr Dixon picks out Sunbeam from Northern Ireland, and PBI Cambridges Midas as promising to make an impact in this sector.

Sunbeam produces a uniform sample of bold tubers with a good shape for crisping which fry well. It has low bruising susceptibility, and excellent foliage blight resistance.

Midas may have the golden touch, as it combines superb fry qualities with a good agronomic package. It has good all-round disease resistance, including blight, and is one of the few crispers with pallida nematode resistance. Midas comes up for NIAB recommendation in February.

A newcomer for general ware use which has caught Mr Dixons eye is the ZPC-bred Caesar. The Dutch type, which has completed three years of NIAB trialing, appears to be dual-purpose for the domestic market, as it both boils and fries well. "Agronomically, Caesar has all the characteristics to appeal to growers, it has good resistance to common scab and reasonable resistance to both blight and powdery scab. It is one to watch," Mr Dixon says.

Salads option

Another growing sector is for salad potaoes for the supermarket punnet trade. Although low volume business, it is high value. Until recently Maris Peer and Pink Fir Apple have dominated, but recently Charlotte and Anya have made inroads into their market share.

"Peer is a quality salad variety, the one others have to beat. Charlotte, which arrived on the scene about three years ago, is giving it a good run.

"Its tubers have an excellent appearance with bright yellow skins and combine good texture with superb taste. Growers like its scab resistance." &#42

A surge of new varieties gives growers more choice than ever when choosing next years seed, says NIABs Tom Dixon.