Teagasc used its presence at this week’s World Potato Congress (WPC) to network with comparable organisations, in particular those undertaking similar projects regarding breeding new potato varieties.
In the words of Teagasc’s head of knowledge transfer Michael Hennessy: “Collaboration with international partners provides opportunities to deliver more complete outcomes from research and development.”
Hennessy confirmed that Teagasc remains committed to a vibrant potato-development research programme.
“Teagasc has been involved in numerous projects of this nature over many years. The final payback for Irish farmers can also be significant,” he said.
Much of this work is centered on the breeding of new potato varieties that can deliver real benefits for Irish farmers and growers in many other countries.
“Developing new varieties that are resistant to Potato Cyst Nematode, or PCN, is a key focus of the work ongoing at Oak Park,” said Hennessy.
“The development of the new variety Buster is extremely exciting in this regard. It is resistant to both species of PCN.”
Climate change, reducing pesticide use and feeding an expanding global population presents a lot of challenges for potato breeders.
Currently, Teagasc research scientists are focussed on developing potato varieties that are resistant to drought, as well as a range of important diseases affecting potato crops.
But developing potato crops that are inherently resistant to blight remains the holy grail for the sector.
“But this is a bit like shooting at a target that is constantly moving,” stressed Michael Hennessy.
“The reality is that the various blight strains are forever mutating.”
Speakers from Teagasc
A number of Teagasc scientists spoke at the WPC including Dan Milbourne, who spoke about breeding the potato varieties of tomorrow.
“Potato breeding is in the midst of a sea-change that will transform the speed and precision with which new varieties will be developed,” said Milbourne.
“Genomic breeding technologies similar to those that have transformed cattle breeding are now also widely used by potato breeders.”
Michael McLaughlin, an adjunct senior fellow at Teagasc, spoke about the sustainable use of fertilisers in the future.
“Looking to the future, projected declines in use of fossil fuels as renewable energy production increases, coupled to increasing environmental regulation, means there could be significant changes to how fertilisers are produced, distributed and used on farm,” he said.
McLaughlin pointed out that the key nutrients required for successful potato production are becoming increasingly expensive and under scrutiny for adverse environmental effects in their production and use.
“Phosphorus, potash and sulphur are also non-renewable global resources,” he added.
“But, fortunately, we are not going to run out of these nutrients in the near future, given world resources/reserves.
“However, poorer-quality reserves and increasing costs to mine, manufacture and transport fertilisers, coupled with geopolitical tensions in exporting regions, means that costs of these essential nutrients are likely to increase.”
Ewen Mullins spoke about what is happening in relation to the regulation of new plant breeding techniques in Europe.
He pointed out that in 2021, the European Commission published a ‘roadmap’ to revisit the legal framework for plants obtained through Novel Genomic Techniques.
The study indicated that the current regulatory system is not fit-for-purpose in light of scientific advancements, according to Mullins.
As a result, Mullins said, policy action should aim at enabling breeding techniques and their products to contribute to sustainability, while ensuring societal concerns are at all times addressed.
“The impact of this initiative is significant,” said Mullins.
“More recent events highlight the expectation that developments will advance further in the months ahead as the EU strives to develop crop production systems with the potential to contribute to the objectives of the Green Deal.”