The quest for Scotland’s next multi-million pound potato success story moved a step closer this week with the harvesting of bespoke trials in a Perthshire field.
A half-acre plot near Coupar Angus growing 61 different clones was hand-lifted by a six-man squad and transported to the James Hutton Institute (JHI) for months of assessment and cooking tests alongside potatoes from an identical site in Lincolnshire which were lifted last week.
The breeding programme is being conducted by James Hutton Limited for a consortium which includes Grampian Growers, Skea Organics and E Park and Son. It started in 2012 and is now in the second year of ware trials, but it might take another six years to select a winner.
However potato breeder Vanessa Young said some samples were already looking promising.
“It’s quite exciting. There’s some good material here and we’re looking forward to having a better look at it. We have stuff which we might potentially fast track at this stage if we identify a front runner,” she said.
“At the moment we have quite a lot of quality data and information on PCN resistance. Some samples are looking promising with dual golden and white PCN resistance. We will review the data and report to the group’s annual meeting at the beginning of the year.”
Ms Young said the target was a PCN-resistant variety that was suitable for a number of different markets.
She added: “Originally it was just a white or cream-fleshed variety for the fresh market but now we are interested in a processing variety for chipping, salads and crisping so we’re looking at a range of material.”
Grampian Growers managing director Mark Clark and potato manager David Murdie were on the field overseeing the dig alongside the co-operative’s farmer members who were invited for a first glimpse of potential new varieties.
Mr Clark emphasised the importance of finding a successor to Gemson, the co-operative’s multi-million pound success story.
“We started growing Gemson commercially eight years ago and it now represents 30% of our tonnage and accounts for 48% of total business turnover,” he said.
“We grew 185ha of Gemson seed this season and that will rise to 250ha next year. If we didn’t have Gemson these trials wouldn’t be happening.”
Mr Murdie pointed out that Gemson had been discovered at the same stage two ware trials.
“We’re aware of 10 very obvious possibilities to take forward in the samples we’ve seen so far and around 10 will be easily discounted,” he said .
“The problem will be making the decision on the other 40.”