21 September 2001

Trial shows purple potato is resistant to blight menace

ENCOURAGING results are emerging from UK trials of a blight-resistant potato variety near Heddon-on-the-Wall in the Tyne Valley.

"This is the first proper replicated trial and the results look extremely promising," says Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University, who is working on the EU-funded Blight-Mop project.

The unnamed EU-registered variety, from a Hungarian breeding programme begun while the country was still a Soviet state, has been in various UK trials for up to four years.

In inoculated experiments with 10 other varieties more than 90% destroyed by blight, the blight-resister suffered no more than tiny leaf lesions.

Subject to consumer tests, a variety suitable for the organic market could be available to UK growers in three to four years, Prof Leifert believes.

"This is fantastic news, for conventional as well as organic growers," says Cambs organic grower Robert Smith. "It would be especially useful to be able to cross that gene into widely used varieties."

A crossed variety would take longer to reach growers, but may be the only way forward because the novel potato is purple. "Its too early to say whether consumers would accept it. Organic buyers are generally more willing to try something new. It could become the new fashion," says Prof Leifert. &#42