Amateur Potato Breeders Group

The Sarvari Trust and Alan Romans, author of the Guide to Potato Varieties booklets have set up this group. Many of its members met in March and are now in contact via e-mail.

Here is Alan's manifesto from early this year:

The lost garden skill –

Potato Breeding

Could you be a next generation Sarpo breeder? Gardeners leave the production of new potato varieties to the scientific “experts.”  Yet before 1930 all varieties were produced by gardeners or farmers using what facilities they had. To this day nearly all European varieties are produced by “hobby” breeders – farmers or growers with an association with one of the large continental potato companies or co-ops. 

The Sarpo varieties Mira and Axona are the most blight resistant varieties we know. They have many garden-friendly characteristics – virus resistance, weed suppressing foliage, high food value, continual tuber growth through the season and long dormancy. They are not commercially successful because:

  •  the tubers can grow very long with a twist, and are prone to having green ends,
  •  they can have extremely high starch levels at the end of the growing season,
  •  when over-mature they are often hollow with blackening,
  •  they have poor skin colour and
  •  they have strong stolons which are often still attached after harvesting.
  •  The weed suppressing foliage is slow to start, ironically leading to early weed problems and
  •  at the end of the season the foliage is unwilling to die back and is difficult to clear for harvest.
Sarpo Mira and Axona produce flowers readily and have strong male and female fertility. They make good mums and dads! Time to move on and breed the next generation with top blight resistance. The “experts” are engaged elsewhere and there is room for a group of British hobby breeders to cross the Sarpos with other varieties to seek a generally acceptable tuber with top virus and blight resistance.

There is a small amount of technical advice available from the Sarvari Trust in North Wales but it would be down to group members to make use of their own facilities – garden/ allotment space, tools, pots, perhaps a greenhouse or polytunnel. Nimble fingers help.  Members could specialize in crossing to produce seed, raising seedlings and selecting potentially useful varieties from the seedlings, or trialing the potentially useful varieties or go for the lot.

A meeting is planned by the Sarvari Trust in North Wales in March to discuss what is involved and what relationship is possible between them and hobby breeders. For the moment we want to gather details of anyone interested.

Alan Romans

East Anglia Potato Day supports this Group. There is room for more members so get in touch if you want to be involved. We will need:

Your Name    Your Facilities   Your Skills   Your email address

New crosses have already been germinated, grown on, planted out, and are now facing selection by potato blight. Other crosses are being attempted by taking varieties we would like to see put some of their qualities into new crops that are blight resistant.