TRADE AND MARKET I NG Potato from seed opens new markets L ast month, the Seed Potato Academy in Groningen organised a meeting around the hybrid potato, where various specialists offered their contributions about the latest developments. That this is a topical subject became evident from an anecdote from Agrico’s managing director Jan van Hoogen, who was the first to step onto the stage. ‘I got a phone call from a grower the other day who said ”Should I still build a new storehouse? Because, what’s going to happen with that hybrid potato soon? Solynta is going to force us out of the market.” Well, as far as we’re concerned, promises are being made that are still far from being realised. Of course, we also see the benefits of the hybrids, because they give heterosis, or hybrid, vigour. They’re genetically pure, they can’t be cultivated via seed – but they can be grown from tubers – variety improvement is faster, the storage and transport of seed is cheap, you can scale up new varieties very quickly and diseases are no longer transferred via tubers’, Van Hoogen summed up. And went on to add: ‘But in the meantime, there are still no varieties that are coming close to the current range of varieties. It’s not all that simple. Van Hoogen made a distinction between the HIP hybrids (Highly Inbred) and the SIP hybrids (Slightly Inbred, such as the Oliver variety from Bejo Zaden). In the latter, purity is a weak point, but it has already produced a usable potato that can be grown from seed. That’s why Bejo Zaden is already able to enter new markets that are not accessible with tubers such as the interior of Africa. HZPC also wants to reach new distant destinations with hybrid seed within a few years and is talking about the introduction of a commercial variety in 2022 or 2023. ‘That won’t be a top variety yet’, said Gerard Backx. ‘But it will be one that’s good enough for markets that basically need healthy planting material. ‘STILL A LOT OF WORK TO BE DONE’ Agrico’s director Jan van Hoogen first took his Audience on a ‘tour of Europe’. He showed that the Dutch seed potato sector has little to fear until 2030, given the continuing demand for starting material and the strong position in relation to other seed potato producing countries. He also stressed that money is earned in other ways from licensing varieties, for example through local multiplication in China. He expects a modest role for the hybrid potato for the time being. ‘How many times has that commercial hybrid been announced already? And it’s still not there. Nobody doubts that there’ll be good hybrids at some point, but a lot of work is still needed to make good homozygous parent lines. We believe that this is greatly underestimated. And there are also other obstacles: the production of hybrid seed is expensive, there are still no import possibilities and second growth remains attractive.’ The argument that buyers can’t multiply the seed is therefore relative, is what he wants to say. Nevertheless, Agrico has also been working on diploid breeding for thirty years now. Last year, the trading house registered a variety that is a cross between a diploid New markets Countries that don’t allow tubers, or where the infrastructure is poor, will be the first in line. And there are quite a lot. ‘We sometimes think that we’re there already, but there’s still an enormous potential in far-away places’, Backx expresses the possibilities. The speakers publicly worked out that the Dutch seed potato growers currently serve 3 to 4 percent of the worldwide seed potato market. Opportunities are to be found especially in Asia and Africa. ‘In some African countries, such as Rwanda and Uganda, the potato market is growing by more than 10 percent a year. So that’s where we can now take our genetics through seed.’ The key question for Dutch seed potato growers is what the arrival of hybrid varieties will mean for the multiplication process close to home. Not a lot right now, expect both Agrico, HZPC and Bejo Zaden. This is mainly because the home market is still geared to the use of tubers. ‘The hybrid potato is first and foremost a breeding technique, not an alternative to multiplication. Not a lot will change for the seed potato sector in our country’, says Backx. ‘Growing a potato from seed is not interesting for growers who can get tubers cheaply. In the longer term – but that will take at least a few more decades – we’ll also start growing better varieties from seed here. But even then it’s obvious that potatoes need to be multiplied via tubers for a number of years, so I don’t see the cultivation of basic seed simply disappearing.’ ● Egbert Jonkheer Jan van Hoogen expects a modest role for the hybrid potato for the time being. and a tetraploid potato: Palace. ‘A great development. But diploids still don’t reach the yield and properties of tetraploids. 6 Potato World 2019 • number 2 Pagina 5

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