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Dutch courage: The ‘potato covenant model’ shows the way for breeding blight-resistant varieties

Across the channel in the Netherlands a remarkable thing is happening. The whole supply chain has worked together through the ‘Potato Covenant’ to shift the organic potato sector to 100% use of robust, blight-resistant varieties, writes Phil Sumption in his blog Agricology.

Potato late blight (Phytophthora infestans) is the most important potato disease in the world. There has been a lot of effort gone into conventional breeding of blight resistant varieties. But, the introduction of novel cultivars often meets with … er…resistance as retailers’ and/or consumers’ awareness must be raised in order to open the market, Phil says. Resistance is an important issue for farmers but not one that immediately resonates with consumers.

In the Netherlands the transition has been achieved in a remarkably short time. In 2017, there were only 3 blight-resistant potato varieties on the market. Now 22 ‘robust’ (blight resistant) organic potato varieties are on the market.

Bionext, the Dutch umbrella organisation for the organic sector, recognised that the availability of resistant varieties needed to improve to prevent future disasters.

The covenant partners work closely with the Louis Bolk Institute and the Bio Impuls potato breeding project. The Bio Impuls programme (2009-2029), co-ordinated by Louis Bolk is aimed at breeding new blight-resistant potato varieties for the organic sector, working together with Wageningen University and Research, commercial breeders and farmer-breeders.

Every year 3 demonstration fields with all the robust varieties are set up and blight damage is monitored by Wageningen University. The demos are visited by farmers and covenant partners. An annual meeting of all the covenant partners is held and results are communicated through the media and workshops.

So, Phil asks, why not the UK?

Find his answer and learn more about the covenant model in the full article on Agricology here.

Phil Sumption – Bio Communications – carries out research communication for the Organic Research Centre.

Header image: Selecting from second year clones at Biompuls’ field site in Klaggenburg. Photo credit: Biompuls

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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