27 October 1995

TPS systems rapid growth a threat to Scottish growers

By Allan Wright

SCOTLANDS 450 specialist seed potato growers could be under threat from a rapid expansion in material grown from true potato seed collected from potato "berries".

That was the conclusion many came to after listening to a presentation from Mario Sepulveda, general manager of a US biotechnology company that has pioneered the TPS system.

He said that, in the UK, the best place to grow true potato seed would be in the south of England. First generation tubers could then be multiplied in traditional potato growing areas. "The climate of Scotland would not suit the growing of true seed," he told growers and scientists at a seminar in Edinburgh last week.

A 14-year research programme costing $25m had started with wild potato plants from South America, he explained. Those were used to build up a bank of 400,000 genotypes for a breeding programme.

"True potato seed is produced by us in Chile in a region naturally isolated from disease. TPS is guaranteed to be absolutely free from disease," said Mr Sepulveda.

From Chile, the dried seed goes to a growing network of customers in Asia, Africa, South America and India. Earlier this year, the US allowed the import and use of TPS for commercial potato production. "In Latin America and India we are now supplying 50% of seed requirements in the potato processing sectors," he claimed.

"We are also establishing trials in Europe, in Spain, Portugal and Italy. France and Holland are also very keen. Dutch potato growers tell me it is a development they cannot ignore."

Scottish Office delegates at the meeting pointed out that there was an EU regulation banning the importation of plant material. However, another piece of legislation allows such plants in under national control.

John Bethell, chief executive of the Scottish Seed Potato Development Council, expressed concern about the ability of tubers produced from seed to breed true. But Hans Renia, a Dutch research fellow working at the Scottish Agricultural College, who organised the seminar, said Mr Bethells fears were unfounded.

"In the past, the material was expensive to obtain, difficult to grow, and gave a wide variety of progeny tubers. But this company has developed high quality TPS to meet the needs of demanding customers. Ware yields in many countries are above 40t/ha."