Potato from seed opens new markets TRADE AND MARKET I NG ‘WE’RE REACHING NEW DESTINATIONS’ As a relative outsider, Bejo Zaden surprised everyone two years ago by being the first to launch a hybrid potato on the market: Oliver F1. Oliver is a tetraploid variety that has excellent vigour, but not the purity that hybrid breeding aims for, namely by crossing homozygous parental lines. ‘Of the hundred tubers, about eight show a deviation in flesh colour’, describes Rien van Bruchem, TPS (True Potato Seed) crop manager at Bejo. ‘Do we mind? Yes we do, but thanks to the variety we can gain experience in the market and take seeds to new destinations. Oliver is an enormous improvement for a farmer in Uganda, for example, who suddenly goes from 15 to 30 tons of yield per hectare thanks to disease-free material.’ Bruchem’s main task is to develop the revenue model for the hybrid potato. ‘Bejo Zaden has been working on the hybrid potato for over twenty years now, but the bottom line was still zero euros. It’s my job to find out more about the market and to do tests all over the world. And, naturally, to give an answer to the question of what price you can ask. From the outset, our selection was based on flowering, a sturdy berry and good seed production. That’s part of the revenue model.’ He shows a photo of exuberantly-flowering flower heads to underline his point. ‘The seed production takes place inside the greenhouse, so that’s expensive. We’ve also done experiments with pilling and priming. That’s not easy, but we’ve succeeded with the help of our seed knowledge. Priming is a form of pre-sprouting and increases the success rate of the crop. Bruchem emphasised a few times that a variety such as Oliver doesn’t come close to any existing potato varieties. But where HZPC and Agrico are talking about market prospects further away than 5,000 km from the Netherlands, he considers markets from 3,000 km onwards to be interesting “As long as potatoes cost less than a euro a kilo, you won’t get potatoes from seed here very quickly” for potatoes from seed. ‘We also know secretly that the potato sector is well organised here and that the Netherlands can supply potatoes cheaply. But potatoes from seed are, of course, getting better and stronger. We have a team of four breeders who work with potatoes.’ For now, the company is focusing on tetraploid variants, because of their good yields, seed production and sturdy seedlings. Oliver is already a success, according to Bruchem. ‘Many farmers in central Africa are used to buying and plan‘We’re focusing on a number of areas, with Africa as a large, but also difficult, market’, Rien van Bruchem outlines today’s Bejo market. ting vegetable plants. That now happens with potatoes from seed. These are grown in a greenhouse or net house and then planted out in the field. The result is a disease-free crop that is then expected to be multiplied from seed for another two years. After which they start afresh. An additional advantage of seed is its storage life. You sow 50 grams of seed per hectare and you can keep the seed for ten to fifteen years. In addition to the logistical advantages, as a grower you can also choose to skip a season of growing and sow again the following year. It means that you’re flexible.’ In the Netherlands, Bejo Zaden has also shown the Oliver variety in its fields in the province of North Holland for a number of years now. ‘We sow here around 1 April and plant out around 15 May. The crop is a bit later than potatoes from tubers, but we do achieve yields that are equivalent to other varieties. But as a business model, it’s still too expensive here. A tuber is cheaper, the transport distances are small here and, what’s more, every tuber is identical. As long as potatoes cost less than a euro a kilo, you won’t get potatoes from seed here very quickly. That’s why we focus on a number of areas, with Africa as a large, but also a difficult, market. That’s why I don’t see Bejo as a newcomer to the seed potato market, but as a newcomer to the potato market.’ Potato World 2019 • number 2 7 Pagina 6

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