A Good looking potato to breed from
Potato Breeding, like any type of breeding, is partly subjective and partly objective. What constitutes the perfect potato? The supreme spud? The tasty tattie?
Skea Organics, our original company, in partnership with some other smaller companies, Grampian Growers and E Park & Sons join together under the banner of GPS to try and find the golden ticket, a disease-resistant, tasty potato which UK consumers will love. The first rejection is very shallow - does it look ok.
The wonderful "tomato thing" that we sometimes find on our homegrown potatoes is what happens in the wild - the berries are the result of the flower being pollinated by an insect and if you are lucky could produce a new potato plant. The process will take a few years though and the results may not be edible.
Official breeding is a far cry from this. 100s of "new potatoes" were planted this spring at a trial plot in England. Each plant has the potential to become the next big thing in the potato world. These were carefully crossed in lab conditions in conjunction with James Hutton Institute so we know what the parentage is (to be able to replicate it for the following years). Each plant is unique.
At this stage, they are rejected mainly if they are a bad shape - e.g. too long, banana shaped, pear shaped, or cracked, or a wide range of sizes.
Outstanding in their field!
(c) Derek Coyle
There are many more that are discarded than kept. Over 6-8 years it needs to be whittled down from 6000, down to maybe 6. So a lot of space as well as time and other resources are ploughed into these breeding plots.
This is all before the all-important taste test! But what is the best-tasting potato? If you ask 10 people, the results will be 10 different potatoes. Some like a floury variety for roasting and some prefer a waxy potato. Each breeder will be looking for different characteristics. We specialise in coloured potatoes, and so are interested in the blues and reds, but still have a keen interest in the whites.
At these trials, there are also potatoes which are much further down the line and the the breeders are hoping and praying for a blightly year so they can see how well a variety will cope. In 2022 there was not much blight around so the trials didn't eliminate too many. However, as we know, 2023 had a lot of blight. It is easier to quickly eliminate the plants that have succumbed to blight, there really isn't much point going any further with a variety that isn't slightly blight-resistant.
The next time you take a bite of a potato you will realise the work that has gone into creating new varieties for you. Like any other industry, research and development takes place. Science crossed with farming will hopefully give us some tasty new disease-resistant varieties that you can grow in your gardens and allotments in a few years time.
We are frequently asked what we do in the summer months when we don't sell anything - well now you know a bit about it!
More information about our breeding programmes can be found here.