Background
Pillar 1 - Environmental stewardship

Development
of sustainable
potatoes

Development of new varieties with a higher yield and lower environmental impact

The development of new varieties with high intrinsic qualities, for cultivation under difficult

conditions, such as heat or drought or in poor soil, is a spearhead in our breeding strategy and it is right at the heart of our mission*. Research & Development (R&D) therefore plays an important part in our business operations.

With a wide network of trial field locations around the world, we have included the most important climates and cultivation conditions in our variety testing. We aim to improve the performance of our varieties even further with research into the best degree of irrigation and fertilisation per variety.

R&D conducts projects on stress (challenging conditions such as heat, drought, poor soil) among other things. These projects focus on the development of varieties with a high yield, supplemented with various resistances. We want to increase the yield for growers of seed potatoes as well as the yield for the grower at the final destination.

One example of a young variety with great potential for stressful cultivation areas is Panamera. The particular characteristics of this variety are its tolerance of heat and drought, nitrogen efficiency and Phytophthora resistance. This results in higher yields during drought conditions and saves grower costs.

Our nursery is fed, in part, by our group of exclusive affiliated breeders, who join our internal selection programme from the fourth test year.

Read more about Research & Development

 

Food for the potato

Sustainable food production starts with the soil. A potato plant will yield much more under optimal growing conditions. 70% of the difference in yield is down to genetics and the other 30% is down to conditions such as climate, soil and cultivation management. Fertilisation always seemed self-evident, but this has changed entirely. Fertilisation is now being viewed in a different light because of environmental legislation as well as scarcity. Raw materials and minerals are not inexhaustible. There are just a few areas left in the world where pure phosphate is extracted. This element, in particular, is an extremely important mineral for the potato plant's growth.

Since fertilisers are applied to a lesser extent, some potato varieties do not receive optimal levels of essential nutrients. They can become susceptible to certain diseases. A shortage of magnesium, for example, significantly increases the susceptibility to Alternaria (Fungal disease) for a number of varieties.

HZPC has set up two trial fields with various nitrogen levels and one location with potassium levels in order to handle minerals more efficiently. The soil levels are tested in advance and the levels absorbed by the plant during the growth phase are measured by way of leaf analysis. 6 varieties were tested in 2014/2015: Colomba, Gioconda and Fortus and three numbered introductory varieties. This not only provides us with an understanding of the effect of nitrogen on yield and quality, amongst other things, but also the interaction with other minerals and we observe whether the particular variety becomes more susceptible to disease. We therefore get to know the particular variety even better. With this knowledge we can produce new and improved potato varieties that are less susceptible to disease or that perform best under challenging conditions.

In the meantime, a number of varieties have become so efficient in terms of nutrient absorption that they can get by with very little and still provide optimal performance. A good example is the Mozart variety, which yields the best performance at 60-70% of normal nitrogen fertilisation levels.

The potato's water footprint

The production of food is responsible for 85% of the annual water consumption in the world (Arjen Hoekstra, Professor of Water Management at the University of Twente in Trouw). Hoekstra developed the 'water footprint' concept, a model which provides an understanding of the volume of water required for producing products and services.

The average worldwide 'water footprint' for potatoes is 287 litres/kg. To compare, the average worldwide water consumption for other crops and production:

Potato 287 litres / kg 
Wheat 1,827 litres / kg
Rice 2,497 litres / kg
Sugar (cane) 1,782 litres / kg
Sugar (beet) 920 litres / kg
Milk 1,020 litres / kg
Beef 15,415 litres / kg
Apple 822 litres / kg

 

Source: Waterfootprint (Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra ,A.Y.)

Does the potato consume excessive amounts of water?
We asked Anton Haverkort, crop ecologist at Plant Research International (PRI) of Wageningen UR, a specialist in potato cultivation systems. Read the article

HZPC Annabelle variety best performer in ÖKO-TEST

In 2015 ÖKO-TEST, a German monthly consumer magazine, examined potatoes from all the German supermarkets. ÖKO-TEST checks products for quality and their effect on the environment. The HZPC Annabelle variety, grown in Portugal, was among the potatoes examined. This potato is sold by Aldi Nord.

Among other things the potatoes were tested for:

  • pesticide residues;
  • nitrate content;
  • metals; 
  • solanine (the natural poison which makes potatoes turn green);
  • water consumption per plot.

The Annabelle "Family Potato" performed best in the test, receiving a 'good' from ÖKO-TEST. Annabelle was the only one of the traditional products tested to gain the 'good' rating.

Ralf Möller, Director of HZPC Germany:
"Our efforts in the field of sustainability put us in a strong position as an organisation to respond to the questions posed by ÖKO-TEST. This enabled us to answer the question about the water footprint for the Annabelle plot in Portugal for example. That was not easy, but it was possible. You can see that questions about the impact of products on the environment are becoming increasingly common property. Thanks to the fact that we are recording more and more data, we are better able to respond to questions from society."

Giving customers insight into which varieties to use for the sake of sustainability under specific conditions

We have conducted a survey of sustainability indicators which are significant for the cultivation and growing of a number of our potato varieties. The survey helps customers and growers to determine, on the basis of a number of market or climatic conditions, which (sustainable) varieties they can use to achieve the best performance under their local conditions.

Download our Varieties & Sustainability Poster

Development of a measurement method to determine sustainability indicators for different varieties
We are busy developing a measurement method to determine the sustainability indicators. Various tests and trials have been developed for this purpose:

  • Fertilisation trials
  • Watersafe trial (drought trials)
  • Measurement method for wastage reduction
  • Disease and resistance tests
  • Consumer value

A heat trial will also be added in the period leading up to 2020.

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