Northern Ireland Seed Promises Future
The high health status of Northern Ireland seed potatoes means the sector has a promising future.
"Northern Ireland and Scotland make up some of the healthiest parts of Europe in which to produce seed potatoes," said Paul Watts, director of Agri-food and Biosciences Institute's Horticultural Centre and Plant Breeding Station in Northern Ireland.
"Potatoes grown in the South of England and on most of the European mainland and north Africa quickly become infected with viruses and other diseases, which reduces the yield of crops from them."
Watts told the Farm Week newspaper that clean healthy seed from Northern Ireland is exported to these countries to allow them to produce high yielding crops.
"The primary aim of the potato breeding program is to produce potato varieties suited to seed production in Northern Ireland and for ware production in the United Kingdom and seed export markets such as Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and north Africa.
"The rationale for this work is the need for increased competitiveness of the seed industry, of which the production of new varieties is an integral part," Watts said.
Breeding material produced at the station is extensively tested in hot climates to develop tolerance to drought and verticillum wilt. This material is used extensively in the commercial crossing program.
Breeding objectives include early maturity, chipping quality, resistance to major diseases such as blight, blackleg and potato cyst nematodes, as well as skin finish.
Farm Week reports the program has produced 11 varieties since 1982 - Carlingford, Navan, Nieta, Toledo, Sperrin, Gilford, Seaforde, Rubicon, Roscor, Pomeroy, Discovery, Sunset, Milagro and Estrella.
Six of these are in or entering commercial production and are being exported to markets in Cyprus, Spain, Morocco, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, the Irish Republic and Saudi Arabia. They also supply a significant part of the Northern Ireland ware market.