Scottish know-how could soon be helping potatoes push rice to one side of dinner bowls in China following the promise of greater collaboration between Asia’s largest commercial grower of the crop and a Dundee-based research institute.
Hailing the James Hutton Institute as “number one” in terms of research into the crop, China’s self styled “King of Potato”, Liaing Xisen, said he was keen to build on the current memorandum of understanding between the research body and his company.
The Xisen Potato Industry Co currently grows, processes and markets almost a quarter of China’s annual production of around 100 million tonnes of potatoes said Liaing, speaking during a visit to JHI’s demonstration farm.
Dr Hu, managing director of the Xisen mini-tuber production facilities in Inner Mongolia – which supplies seed for the company’s huge potato growing operation – said that the company had been collaborating on potato research with the JHI for the past four years.
In the country as part of a Chinese national delegation to attend the Potatoes in Practice event, organised jointly by JHI, SRUC and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, Hu said that there had been major developments in China which could see a dramatic increase in the area of potatoes cultivated.
Despite being more famous for rice and noodles, Hu said China was the world’s largest grower of potatoes – and he said that in recent weeks the humble spud had gained a highly prized official listing as one of the country’s staple foods.
This meant that area of land dedicated to growing potatoes was likely to double.
The elevation of the potato – which has traditionally been viewed as a vegetable dish – to staple status will also open the door for much more state funded research and development into growing the crop.
The Chinese government took the decision to boost potato production and consumption to increase food production in more northern areas of the country and to ensure a plentiful food supply as the population of 1.3 billion grows.Although one of the few crops to be regularly irrigated in the UK, pound for pound, potatoes require 30 per cent less water than China’s traditional staple of rice, while providing more minerals and vitamins.
Jonathan Snape, commercial director with James Hutton, said that the new status of the crop in China meant that “incredible research facilities” were available in that country – and with the Hutton’s expertise and knowledge, close collaboration on research project covering production and disease control measures could produce huge benefits for both countries.
He added that potato varieties bred at the Hutton were currently undergoing trials in Asia to see if they provided a good fit for the local growing conditions, a move which could spark considerable commercial possibilities.
Wale’s agro chemicals warning
The potato industry needs to look afresh at its reliance on agrochemicals for the control of diseases, a leading industry researcher warned yesterday.
Speaking at the Potatoes in Practice event, the SRUC’s potato guru, Stuart Wale, said that while hopes had been aired in some quarters that the UK’s vote to leave the EU would allow a less punitive approach to be taken on the registration of plant protection products, such wishful thinking was likely to be unfounded.
“It certainly looks like UK producers will have to comply with the same rules on the use of agro chemicals as the rest of the EU even after Brexit if we are to have any chance of maintaining access to this crucial market,” said Wale.
He said that while there had been a steady increase in the number of products being removed from the approved list in recent years there were far fewer coming in at the other end of the pipeline than there had in the past.
“And for this reason we really need to take a closer look at using an integrated approach which includes resistant varieties, growing techniques and the use of biological control methods,” he added.
He said that while the latter means could offer good control, results tended to be more variable than with agrochemicals.
On the use of disease-resistant varieties, he said supermarkets tended to put eye appeal ahead of disease resistance when choosing which varieties to stock.