Thanks to their high adaptability, potatoes are cultivated on all continents, and their contribution to feeding the world’s population is very important due to their particularly high nutrient density per hectare. However, the continuing progression of climate change is resulting in new pressure to adapt. Due to its intensity and pace, it will be very difficult to counter this with the solutions that are available so far.
Dr. Rolf Peters
The basis for successful potato cultivation is not only optimum production technology, but also the availability of varieties that are appropriate for the respective cultivation conditions. Alongside the classic objective of constantly increasing potato yields, specific quality requirements have very quickly emerged on the market to enable the demands in the various areas of potato usage to be met better. European potato breeders, above all, have undertaken a great deal of pioneering work in this area. Today, this is reflected both in a high number of tasty ware potato varieties and in a wide range of successful varieties for the processing industry.
At the same time, however, the potato breeders have been compelled to constantly improve the resilience of their varieties to diverse harmful organisms and pathogens during this process. The successive transition to potato varieties that are resistant to cyst nematodes, for instance, started around 50 years ago and is now firmly anchored in the majority of new varieties. However, the existence of certain pathogens such as the familiar late potato blight or the Colorado potato beetle makes success very slow to materialise despite long-term breeding work. While modern resistance research has helped to extensively advance our knowledge in these areas, breeding cycles, which require approximately 15 years before a new variety is successfully registered, run counter to its speedy implementation in practical farming.
This situation has worsened dramatically due to the intensive climate change seen in recent years because e.g. rising temperatures in the typical potato growing regions of north-western Europe are increasingly helping new diseases and harmful organisms to become indigenous. Resistance breeding has to find adequate responses to these as quickly as possible. In combination with classic methods, modern breeding techniques could give rise to new options for improving the resilience of existing or new varieties considerably faster in this case.
While these advantages have already been successfully integrated into breeding work in numerous regions around the world, a laborious evaluation process is still ongoing in the EU.
Just how important a positive decision would be in this case is also reflected in the highlighting of breeding resilient varieties in the national and international strategies for structuring the future of farming. However, this tool can only be used effectively if breeding is able to keep up with the framework conditions, which are changing at an increasingly faster pace. While the current portfolio already includes some potato varieties that are characterised by their more pronounced resilience to stress caused by drought and heat, for instance, this is by no means sufficient to ensure a satisfactory yield under the increasing number of extreme weather situations as well. In the context of a multifactorial sustainability strategy in potato production, work is additionally being undertaken to achieve further efficiency increases in the use of water and nutrients.
Many potato-growing regions around the world are also awaiting the availability of more resilient and multi-resistant varieties, as growing conditions there have changed even more dramatically in recent years. Such varieties can contribute significantly to the population’s food security in these regions. At the same time, the established seed potato markets in and outside of Europe necessitate continuous support to meet regional needs, which are often very differentiated, in addition to global requirements with corresponding varieties. This may also explain why over 300 potato varieties are currently being propagated as seed potatoes in Germany, for instance.