Rindert Dankert, Selection Company Kooi, Leeuwarden: ‘Our focus for many years has been on breeding early varieties.’
‘Our focus for many years has been on breeding early varieties and we’re still sticking to that. That is also the power of Kooij. Important aspects are the time and the degree of maturing. It’s difficult, for example, to breed in the right moment at which the foliage starts to die off. In many early varieties, maturation starts too early so that high yields are no longer possible. Another difficult aspect in breeding is to combine early maturity with proper hardening off of the skin. Breeders don’t always include this last factor sufficiently in their assessment, often resulting in disappointments later. At the moment, the early French-fry varieties are the most in demand and all the breeders are looking first and foremost at the Première. One of the areas where manufacturers want improvement is a better shape and better distribution of the dry matter content in the tubers. And that’s what we’re also looking at in our breeding work. We currently have a promising number, Fob 2012-136-067, from the Fobek breeding station. All in all, this is an early dual-purpose variety. You can get a lot of high-quality French fries from it and the variety can also be used as a table potato for fresh consumption. The extra qualities of this variety compared, for example, to the Première is its better dry matter distribution, its bigger size and, at the same time, long-oval shape, its beautifully-smooth strong skin and its more yellowy flesh colour.
Tigran Richter, Norika, Sanitz (D): ‘We’ve embedded the key concepts of sustainability and yield security in all our breeding programmes.’
‘Norika is a breeding station that’s at home in all markets. You can see this here at the exhibition, which we’re organising together with the Binst trading company in Grimbergen from Belgium. We have the entire range of potato varieties under our umbrella, French fries, crisps, table potatoes, and starch in red, yellow and purple colours. I can’t just point to one single focus. But … there are a number of common factors that currently require our full attention – and already have it – on all of these fronts. For example, there’s the all-embracing pressure on the sector for cultivation using fewer pesticides, because society no longer wants to find any trace of them in their food or in the environment. Recent examples, of course, are the ban on products such as Reglone and CIPC. Another focal point is fertilisation with the emphasis on reducing the use of nitrogen. You in the Netherlands are in the middle of that discussion, I don’t have to explain anything about that. A further common denominator is climate instability. The main question here is what answers do we have in breeding when it comes to the extremes of heat, drought and flooding? And then there’s another important factor we need to deal with, which is the cost pressure. It shouldn’t cost anything. If we, as breeders, don’t start working on all these arguments, conflicts will arise. And it’s up to us to prevent that. So what we need in all the cultivation segments is sustainable varieties with high yield certainty. We’ve embedded these two key concepts, sustainability and yield security, in all our breeding programmes. If I may give you an example, here’s the Soraya variety. A variety with a wow factor. It has pretty much all the common focal points that I mentioned. The variety needs little nitrogen, 120 kilograms per hectare is already more than enough. It’s also not very susceptible to Phytophthora, has nematode resistance Ro 1 and 4, is strong against bacterial infections, scab and Rhizoctonia. And, also not insignificant, the yield is high and the grading is uniform. So it’s a variety that gives you real value for money and therefore doesn’t increase the cost price.’
Jeroen van Soesbergen, Plantera, Marknesse: ‘I think that, at the moment, we’re focusing most on climate change in our breeding work.
‘The question is clear, but the answer isn’t that easy to give. I think that, at the moment, we’re focusing most on climate change in our breeding work. Take this wet autumn, for example, or the past dry summer. What that meant for potato growing was an increase in soil-related diseases, drought stress and abnormal formation of shoots and tubers. We breeders are then asked: “What would help?” As I see it, it would be very helpful if we could reduce the harvest risk by bringing the harvest period forward. This means that we’ll have to focus our breeding activities on varieties that mature earlier, have an acceptable high yield and, at the same time, a long storage time using the least possible sprouting inhibitors, because climate change is also an issue where crop protection is concerned. Next year, we’re already facing a ban on Chlorine-IPC and Reglone. Breeding for early maturity is not the most difficult part of the process. What is difficult, however, is to combine this with the various resistances that many growers also want. In addition to the reality of climate change, we also have to deal with the reality of the increasing virus pressure. Until a few years ago, we never had to worry about that in breeding, now it’s priority number one. So what we’re doing at the moment is translating as many of the problems above into a variety that can best deal with them per segment. Fortunately, when it comes to resistances, we’re well on the way and it’s a matter of stacking when it comes to adding the most recently desired characteristics. The best example of this is the Vitabella variety. It combines that early maturity with a high yield. In addition, it already has a stack of resistances such as Potato Cyst Nematode Ro 1 to 4, wart disease physio 1 and 2/6, an 8 for Phytophthora in the haulm and a 7 for abnormal tuber formation and also an 8 for Y virus. So it’s clear that we’re focusing most on these varieties.’
Jan-Erik Geersing, Geersing Potato Specialist/Caithness Potatoes, Emmeloord: ‘All our attention is focused on Phytophthora, which won’t surprise anyone in the industry.’
‘All our attention is focused on Phytophthora, which won’t surprise anyone in the industry. I myself have been busy with my own breeding work for fifteen years now. The trial fields are located at the organic farm of Joos and Marien Poppe in the village of Nagele in the Noordoostpolder region. Breeding Phytophthora-resistant varieties is not only necessary for organic farming, but just as much for conventional farming. In fact, in organic farming, Phytophthora hasn’t been the most important challenge for some years now. It’s now viruses. In the organic sector, attention has been focused on solutions in this area for some time. For example, we already have a virus-resistant variety available called Marcella. So, as you can imagine, visitors from conventional farming are now all rushing to the one tray holding that variety. But this is just a small digression, now to get back to your question. Phytophthora is our main breeding aim. This started for organic farming and after initiatives such as the bio-covenant, it’s also gradually rolling out to the conventional sector. There are currently ten truly Phytophthora-resistant varieties available. We have three of these, one of which is our own variety, the Cammeo, and there are two French varieties which we market here under licence. Interest is growing rapidly, which can also be seen in the increase in the area. This year, we’re going from 16 to 35 hectares of seed potatoes with the Cammeo. And the momentum will remain in the years to come. What we see is that the potato acreage in organic cultivation is increasing again after years of decline, partly due to the availability of varieties that are resistant to Phytophthora, nematodes and virus. In addition, there’s currently a strong resistance in society to the use of chemical products, and the conventional potato farmers are experiencing the consequences. This pressure can be eased quite a bit with the cultivation of Phytophthora-resistant varieties. This doesn’t mean that we should stop spraying, it’s better not to do this. In fact, Phytophthora resistance is maintained for much longer by also spraying resistant varieties a number of times per growing season. I expect this will become normal practice fairly soon.’
Henk Feddes, Interseed, Dronten: ‘How are the French-fry varieties doing in the factory? They are our number 1 priority.’
‘French fries and crisps, that’s the segment that the breeding work is 100 percent focused on. And when we zoom in on that, most of the attention goes to the question of how the varieties are performing in the factory. That’s our number 1 priority. Do the varieties suitable for French fries have sufficient length, is the frying quality okay, which ones produce the most fries and which varieties produce the least possible waste? These are the most important criteria. The fact that this is at the top of our list is mainly because the owner of Interseed is a French-fry manufacturer. Naturally, the grower must also be able to work with it, so we also look at resistances. Several of our French-fry varieties already have the much sought-after combination of pallida and wart disease resistance, such as the Poseidon. And this year, all interest is focused on virus resistance, which is a characteristic we’ve been working on for many years in our breeding programme. We’ve always been pretty rigorous when it comes to virus selection. If we find this in a seedling, we stop immediately and the effect of doing this can be found in our most important French-fry varieties. This season, the NAK’s (General Netherlands Inspection Service for Field Seeds and Seed Potatoes) virus reduction percentage is over 37 percent. Our Zorba variety had 5.7 percent reduction, no rejects, Miss Malina, Austin and Alanis all had 0.0 percent reduction and no rejects. You could, in fact, call this a focus, but with us it’s no more than good practice because, if you ask about the main focus in breeding, it’s the frying quality. This involves size, tuber shape, length, low levels of reducing sugars and a firm texture. The Zorba is currently the most successful result of this method. This year, we had 142 hectares of seed potatoes and next year we expect to have between 200 and 210 hectares. What the variety has to offer is that in addition to a good frying quality, it also has characteristics that are in high demand at the moment. We’ve already mentioned virus resistance, but its early maturity is also an advantage. Due to the disappearance of a remedy such as Chlor-IPC, processors are now looking more to early-maturing varieties, because they expect that they’ll not be able to store the volume of storage varieties for as long.
Jörg Renatus, Europlant, Lüneburg (D): ‘Our main objective is to develop varieties that contribute to sustainable potato cultivation.’
‘What we are focusing on? That question isn’t difficult, nor is the answer. Our main objective is to develop varieties that contribute to sustainable potato cultivation. Breeding for resistances is an important part of this and is both a huge challenge and an opportunity for us. The challenge lies in the fact that we try to develop varieties that are the most efficient for each grower, wherever they are in the world. In this context, I’ve mentioned the three key words that today’s breeding work at Europlant is all about: durability, resistance and efficiency. None of these can be separated from the others. So what challenges are we facing? First and foremost is, anticipating all the cultivation factors brought about by climate change, drought, heat, flooding, etc. Nitrogen is number two on the list. How do we develop varieties that handle this as efficiently as possible and therefore require little fertilisation? The third in line is resistance to pests, diseases, drought and heat. The trick here is to be able to offer a suitable variety for each purpose and region that provides an answer to problems that pose a threat there. This requires a flexible breeding programme. And then there’s the disappearance of crop protection chemicals as number four. What’s the answer to that? When I look at CIPC, it’s especially important that we find varieties that can be stored for a long time with little or no sprout inhibiting agents. There’s currently a high demand for this from growers, because alternative products are very expensive. Fortunately, we have modern cultivation tools at our disposal to tackle this urgently, such as marker technology. And with that, we develop varieties that can answer all those questions from the sector, such as the many examples we already have here in the boxes.
Remco Koeman and Matthijs Kloek, Den Hartigh, Emmeloord: ‘We have a broad perspective that allows us to serve the entire playing field in the potato sector.’
RK: ‘The most interesting thing about this question for us is, what do you focus on? As a breeder and a trading company, your always look first at who your customers are and what they need. Our customer base can be split into two main groups: the seed potato growers in the Netherlands and the buyers of the seed potatoes they grow. Most of the latter are ware potato growers abroad. Both main groups have their own requirements. In our view, when it comes to focus, there’s always a matter of differentiation. On the one hand you have the breeder who often takes a long-term view and on the other there’s the grower who’s more concerned with every-day problems. In order to get a clear picture of the direction we need to follow as breeders, we make trend analyses for each customer segment. For example, what we observe among growers is the search for answers to problems related to climate change. Think of brief hot spells, longer periods of drought, cases of flooding, and soil salinisation. And then there are the ensuing pests and diseases reflected in the increased damage caused, for example, by viruses and nematodes. For us, these are again spearheads in variety breeding. If we focus on the potato processors, it’s clear to us that the most important trend is the enormously growth in this segment. As a breeding company, you could decide to devote more attention to this. And if we look at the consumers, we notice an increasing interest in healthy food in this segment with more attention to low-calorie foods that are also rich in antioxidants. MK: ‘The great thing is that we can respond to all these trends, because we have two breeding companies, Den Hartigh and Solanum, which together cover all these aspects. So, we have a broad perspective that allows us to serve the entire playing field in the potato sector. If there’s more demand for French-fry potatoes, we’ll try to breed those. If they need to be climate-proof and to have more resistances, then that’s what we’re going to look for. The young French-fry variety, King Russet, is a result of this approach. It’s a block-shaped potato with a length from which you can cut a lot of fries with very little loss. In addition, it’s not affected by internal defects and has broad nematode resistance from A to E. We see that the French-fry market currently needs this.’
Henk Offereins, Danespo Holland, Berltsum: ‘As Danespo Holland, we’re now fully engaged in the breeding and selection of French-fry varieties.’
‘As we know, Danespo’s head office is in Denmark, along with the now completely renovated breeding station. This is where all the basic breeding activities are taking place for the various cultivation goals such as quality, resistances, etc. As Danespo Holland, we gratefully make use of this, but we have our own specific goal when it comes to breeding work and this is to market French-fry varieties. We do this in the Netherlands, simply because we have the soil and the climate in which most French-fry potato varieties grow for the processors in North-West Europe. When you test French-fry varieties in Denmark, the tuber setting is often much lower and you often get smaller seed. That’s why we’ve been working in our own country for some years now with the strains of our French-fry varieties and, last season, we had first-year seedlings of potential varieties on our trial fields. Strain propagation takes place in the province of Friesland and the seedlings are tested on the NAK trial fields near Emmeloord. We can see much better there whether there are adequately large sizes and whether these develop defects such as hollow growth. So, within the total Danespo breeding programme, Danespo Holland is now fully engaged in the breeding and selection of French-fry varieties.’ For years, the Royal has been our most successful variety, but that’s now reached its peak in terms of acreage. This is mainly a big tuber variety with a creamy-flesh colour, but that’s not what we’re looking for right now. We’re now focusing primarily on white McDonalds or yellow quality French fries with a good baking quality after long storage. And we now have quite a lot of seedlings of these in the pipeline, some of which we’ll be testing on the industry’s trial fields. It’s all still at an early stage, the knock-out race has yet to begin, but the first results are certainly very hopeful.’
Henk Holtslag, Stet Holland, Emmeloord: ‘Even more than before, we’re going to focus on developing and offering robust varieties.’
‘In our field of expertise, we have a strong tendency to look at current developments. For example, at the moment, all attention within the sector is focused on the virus issues. It’s logical that we then get more demand for varieties with virus resistance and that we concentrate on that in our breeding work. Nevertheless, it’s much more important when you talk about focus to stick to a long-term vision. Years ago, we introduced the slogan ‘first, fresh, far’ and we’ll continue to focus on that. ‘To serve the export market, we’re going to concentrate, even more than before, on developing and offering robust varieties.’ These are varieties that produce more yield than before, are easy to cultivate, and have the desired resistances. The description that fits best here is a “robust farmers” potato’. And if that also includes improved virus resistance, we’ll certainly focus our breeding work on that. At the same time, this means that we’ll be quicker to say goodbye to varieties that don’t meet the criteria as they’ll only stand in the way of the acreage and increased sales of the very best. When it comes to viruses, for example, it’s the more vulnerable, late-maturing varieties that we need to get rid of. In addition to variety characteristics, we also make more targeted choices when it comes to cultivation areas. We’ll stop growing a variety that, because of its particular specifications, has a limited sales area and has no further growth potential. So, which variety will we focus on developing? This could be the Brianna, which is entirely in line with our “first, fresh, far” objective. It’s a variety that produces high yields, has many resistances, yields coarse tubers and has a nice firm skin, in short – the perfect example of a robust type.’
Hans Geling, Seed and Ware Potatoes at Schaap-Holland, Biddinghuizen: ‘What we’ve been urgently looking for is a replacement for the Agria.’
‘You know, we’re an all-rounder as far as potatoes are concerned. We breed varieties, grow and sell ware potatoes, and peel them for the production of a wide range of fresh potato products. The common denominator is the Agria variety. Agria is a variety that can be used in a wide range of processing products. It just fits really well in our entire range of Poldergoud products. Its flesh, colour, shape and taste are excellent. You can fry it well. If it comes to cooking properties, there’s nothing better. So we have no complaints about the user qualities. But in other areas, the variety has its disadvantages. For example, cultivation is expensive. It multiplies badly, as a result of which the cost price of ware cultivation is relatively high. This year, we’ll again be confronted with another disadvantage and that’s its late maturity. A wet autumn means an increased harvest risk. In addition, they’re sometimes difficult to store, although many loyal Agria growers have now mastered this quite well. Then there’ll be a few more problems for next year, such as the veto on the haulm killer Reglone and the sprout inhibitor Chlor-IPC. Two products that made it possible to have Agria available almost all year round. What we’ve urgently been looking for is a replacement for this variety that’s so very important to us. From what I’m saying, you can see that its importance is only increasing year after year. It’s a pity that we still haven’t found that Agria-plus. What we do have is a summer variant, the Aromata. This is an Agria look-alike that we harvest from the beginning of July until the end of September and process immediately. We’ll continue to search for a successor that’s storable long-term until we’ve found the right one. That’s our focus.’