PILLAR 1 Environmental Stewardship

Development of sustainable potato varieties


The potato is naturally a sustainable product

Sources: The OECD Environmental Outlook Baseline projections; United Nations; Plant Research International, part of Wageningen UR Business Unit Agrosystems research;

The potato does not need much input to feed many mouths effectively and quickly. The potato offers a way forward in terms of the anticipated 9.8 billion world citizens by 2050. Because good and high-quality food can be produced using the potato in a short period of time with considerably less water compared to corn, rice or wheat. One hundred days after planting, the potato can already be harvested for food or as seed. Cereals require a full season for this.

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

Sustainable cultivation

We are working on sustainability in order to improve potato cultivation all over the world. The potato is becoming more and more popular around the world, even in countries where rice is preferred, such as China and India.

In order to reduce the impact on the environment, we use our breeding program to focus on:

  1.   Efficient land use (higher yield per m2)
  2.   Environmentally friendly cultivation (reduced crop protection and fertilisation)
  3.   Reduced fresh water consumption
  4.   Enhanced tolerance to abiotic stress such as heat, drought and salt

Breeding technology

HZPC uses the latest breeding technology. With more and more opportunities, we work on the development of new, sustainable and responsible potato varieties. HZPC's varieties are developed without the use of genetic modification (non-GMO-certification). This policy continues to apply for the development of new varieties.

We are aware that lots of scientific biotechnology research is being undertaken. We are also aware that this science has the potential to tackle many of the issues which challenge the world – production of affordable food for a growing world population. We monitor the possibilities that biotechnology offers from that perspective.

At present, when it comes to the application of new breeding techniques, such as the modification of present genes and cisgenesis (the addition of exclusively species-specific genes), we are still limited by European legislation that has not kept up with current responsible technical developments. Nevertheless, taking into account the wide-ranging political and social discussion, regulation and acceptance of such new technology by our stakeholders will always be decisive for how we work.

Read more about our
Breeding programs and Research & Development

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

Improve performance of varieties

Research & Development (R&D) plays an important part in our business operations.
With a wide network of test 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 land use, the best degree of irrigation and fertilisation per variety.

More efficient food for the potato: high yield with low investment

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. Fertilisation is now being viewed in an entirely different perspective because of environmental legislation, as well as scarcity of raw materials and minerals. Minerals for growth, such as phosphate, are becoming scarce. The use of fewer fertilisers does not, however, mean optimum nutrition for some potato varieties. A shortage of, for example, magnesium, boron and manganese can increase Alternaria (fungal disease) symptoms. So when the soil condition of various minerals is not optimal, this can have an effect on the extent of Alternaria symptoms.

HZPC has set up two test fields with various nitrogen levels and a 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 analyses. Two varieties were tested in 2016/2017: Panamera and Allison.

This provides us with an understanding of the effect of nitrogen on, for example, yield and quality, and the interaction with other minerals. We also 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 which perform optimally 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. One example of a young variety with great potential for stressful cultivation areas is the Panamera. The particular characteristics of this variety are tolerance of heat and drought, nitrogen efficiency and Phytophthora resistance. The variety performs well with only green manure. This results in higher yields during drought conditions and saves grower costs (crop protection products).

Resistance reduces the necessity of crop protection

Potato varieties that are less susceptible to diseases require less crop protection. This reduces negative impact on the environment and ensures good yields, particularly in poorer countries where crop protection products are expensive.

Recently, three new tropical clones were tested, in particular on Phytophthora resistance. In these climate zones, there is little or no money for crop protection. The tested varieties are very suitable for a (sub) tropical climate. The first clone has now been applied for registration for the catalogue of varieties.

In addition, management of Erwinia continues to command our attention. Thanks to the introduction of a PCR test* on basic seed potatoes, using fewer field generations and a number of adjustments to the growing process, the number of cases of declassifications of seed potatoes due to Erwinia has fallen sharply in recent years.

* Polymerase Chain Reaction. Samples often contain insufficiently small quantities of DNA to work with directly. Thanks to the PCR technique, we can now multiply the DNA in a sample.

Cultivation of robust organic varieties in 2020 for the organic sector

HZPC has signed the covenant 'Accelerated transition to robust potato varieties'. In doing so it supports the efforts of the organic potato sector to give a sustainable answer to Phytophthora through the cultivation of robust varieties. The aim is to have a pallet of robust, resistant potatoes available for the Dutch organic consumer from 2020 onwards. 

HZPC is convinced that, when these varieties are used in conventional cultivation, this will ultimately result in a greater social contribution in the form of a reduction in the use of crop protection. Because this is a much larger crop, this will lead to a larger reduction in the use of crop protection.

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 that 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:

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

HZPC also develops varieties that can produce a good yield with less (fresh) water. For example, the Farida is a variety with a low water footprint. It consumes less water and has less downtime during irrigation. In the case of drought or reduced irrigation, the potato tuber sometimes becomes smaller.

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

We made an overview of sustainability indicators that are significant for the cultivation and growing of a number of our potato varieties. This overview helps customers and growers to determine, on the basis of a number of market or climatic conditions, which (sustainable) varieties they can use which will give the best performance under their local conditions.

View 'Sustainable varieties' 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 reduction in wastage
  • Disease and resistance tests
  • Consumer value
  • Salt test
  • Heat test