Spud disease resistance sacrificed for perfect skin

Supermarket demand for perfect skin finish on potatoes is hampering efforts to produce disease- and virus-resistant varieties, according to one of the UK’s top breeders.

Speaking at the Potatoes in Practice event in Scotland, Finlay Dale, principal potato breeder at the James Hutton Institute, said the emphasis placed on skin finish was affecting how quickly breeders could meet some of the targets the industry “really needed’.

“The number of varieties that we and others have had rejected – even if they’re the most blight- and potato cyst nematode-resistant thing we have,” he said. “Just because the skin finish isn’t 100% right.

“My mantra is that we have the most attractive compost heaps in Europe, because people buy potatoes by appearance, then peel them and throw it away. It’s the substance, what’s inside, that counts.”

Dr Dale cited what he described as the “perfectly good” variety Vales Everest as an example.

He said: “It was slightly blackleg susceptible, but it was the most resistant variety on the list and had some commercial success. But the skin finish wasn’t quite right, so it didn’t hit the 101 targets breeders are being asked to meet.

“I’m not saying we should ignore skin finish, but is that the right emphasis? It places a huge burden on breeders – and I’m not just talking about myself. It’s having an effect on how quickly we can meet some of the targets the industry really needs. Maybe the balance needs shifting a bit.”

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