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Bio Impuls: Organic Potato Breeding

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Innovations in potato breeding

The Bio-Impuls programme (2009-2019) is aimed at breeding new resistant potato varieties for the organic sector. The Louis Bolk Institute coordinates this programme, working closely together with Wageningen University and Research, commercial breeders and farmer-breeders. The programme is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. 

Resistant varieties for organic and conventional production

Disease resistant varieties are crucial for the organic sector, but their availability is still limited. Organic growers are not allowed to use chemical pesticides to control the common potato disease Phytophthora infestans (potato blight). The present method to fight Phytophthora is to burn off the foliage, but this reduces both the yield and quality of the tubers. Within the Bio-Impuls programme, researchers, growers and commercial breeders are working together to develop new potato varieties for the organic market. These varieties have multiple-gene resistance, require only low nutrient inputs, and produce adequate yields and tasty potatoes.

Covenant with supply chain parties

By now, ten new resistant potato varieties are available from commercial potato breeders. In August 2017, Bionext initiated the covenant "Accelerating the transition to robust potato varieties" to ensure that the new organic varieties find their way to the shop shelves. As a result, retailers such as Albert Heijn, Jumbo and organic food shops are now working together to promote these varieties to consumers. 

Researcher Edith Lammers van Bueren explains why conventional growers also benefit from the new resistant varieties (Interview 23 August 2017, video in Dutch) 


Classical breeding methods and genetic engineering

In addition to classical breeding methods for developing new resistant varieties, there are techniques for building Phytophthora resistance into existing varieties. For example, the research project DURPH of Wageningen University and Research uses genetic engineering methods to increase resistance of existing varieties using genes from (wild) potato species only (a process known as cisgenesis) . As genetic modification is a subject of public debate, it is useful to explore both GM and classical methods to improve potato resistance to Phytophthora. For more information, read the overview paper in Aardappelwereld (2013, in Dutch) or view the video jointly produced by DURPH and Bioimpuls (2013, in Dutch).


New knowlegde, directly applicable 

Part of the project is to collect and disseminate knowledge and experience of farmer-breeders involved in organic potato breeding. This has already resulted in various potato breeding courses organised by the Louis Bolk Institute. Furthermore, we have developed a handbook for farmer-breeders, the Potato Breeding Manual

For more information, watch the project video below (in Dutch).