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Journey to my past

September 2018

Last August the potato-demonstration days were held in the Southwest of the Netherlands. This is a bi-annual potato event with harvesting demonstrations, demonstration fields, a small symposium and an exhibition with companies related to the potato sector. During the opening ceremony the first copy of the new Potato Handbook by Anton Haverkort was handed over to European parliament member Mss. Schreijer-Pierik. Later that day I got also a copy and scrolling through the book I went back to memory lane.

You must know that Anton Haverkort is not only my predecessor as writer of this column but he also was my mentor during my PhD research back in the early nineties. During that time I worked on modelling genotype-climate interaction and earliness of potato crops. We traveled together through Africa and South America doing experiments and visiting potato fields. He also let me use his extended international network for my experimental work. Without it I never could have done the PhD. research I did.

Especially chapter 4 in the Potato Handbook contains a lot of familiar material for me. It is about the crop and its environment and it deals with techniques such as estimating soil cover with a grid, calculating potential yield from intercepted radiation during the growing season, and further on about the different growing seasons depending on latitude and altitude. It was all part of my work for my PhD thesis and the basis of my later work in the potato sector.

Since his retirement from Wageningen University two years ago Anton has been working on this handbook. The book describes all aspects from the potato crop and is a reflection of his long life career in potato science and his work on potato projects all over the world. In a sense it also shows his way of working, on one side the scientific approach and methodical way of working throughout the book. The basics of potato in society, plant growth, propagation material, the crop and environment, and cultivation and storage are described. All this is carefully backed by three hundred references from scientific and professional literature. Despite its scientific background the book is very readable and illustrated with an enormous amount of pictures and figures from all aspect of the potato supply chain and thus very suitable for use in practice.

In my view that is exactly what the potato sector needs, scientific research to understand the basic principles, how a crop produces in different environments, how to handle it and what the effect is on the final product. But this knowledge should be connected with the work field, it should be translated in practical methods that can be used by farmers, breeders and potato processors to improve potato production, reduce the impact on the environment and adjust to changing conditions.

The world is changing fast and new techniques in the area of genetics, the use of sensors, precision agriculture, pest reduction etc. are becoming available. The challenge for students and future scientist will be to translate these new developments to make them work in day by day potato production. If they succeed, they can write a new handbook in time but they should use the current one as an example of how it should be done.

Dr. Ir. Peter Kooman
Professor Potato supply chain and sector innovation
CAH Vilentum University of Applied Sciences


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