The Potato Council, have recently accused ‘grow your own’ gardeners of spreading the fungal blight which has devastated potato crops across the UK.
However, many gardeners are already growing blight resistant potatoes and can fight back against accusations that they have ‘fuelled a national potato shortage’.
Ironically, in the past potato farmers were the ones blamed for causing blight problems for gardeners by leaving diseased plants and tubers in or on fields, enabling the fungal spores to reproduce and spread on the wind.
Blight is a fungal disease which loves warm, moist conditions. Our wet summer created the ideal environment for it’s growth and spread with gardeners and farmers alike having suffered one of the worst growing seasons in a generation.
History documents well various episodes of famine due to potato blight and we do have to remember that the humble spud is a Medditteranean plant. However, researchers at the Sárvári Research Trust in Wales show that there are varieties of potato which show great blight resistance and are more suited to our temperate climate.
Sárpo potatoes (pronounced ‘Sharpo’), are the highest ranking on the official scale of blight resistance.
Sárpo potatoes were first bred in Hungary by the Sárvári family and their work has continued through the Sárvári Research Trust in Wales, which further screens varieties to select the best resistance to new blight strains.
Exclusive to Thompson & Morgan, ‘Sárpo Mira’ has fast become a favourite for home growers, along with its sister, ‘Sárpo Axona’. As well as being resistant to blight, they are unaffected by slug damage and don’t mind drought.
They store incredibly well too and gardeners can expect high yields, even in poorer soils. Sárpo range’s resistance to disease and drought means there is no need for chemical sprays or excessive irrigation making them well suited to mass cultivation.
The chairman of the Potato Council was quoted recently as saying that it would be better if people just bought ‘healthy, well-produced potatoes’ from retailers rather than attempting to grow their own. The response from Dr David Shaw, director of the Sárvári Research Trust has been immediate and vigorous;
‘Why do gardeners bother to grow their own?’, he asks, ‘ Exactly because they do not want to buy “well produced potatoes” sprayed every week with chemical fungicide’.
Colin Randel, T&M’s vegetable product manager agrees. Both men, considered experts in the potato industry, say that if all varieties grown were resistant, blight control would be much easier.
Many amateurs already grow Sárpo varieties, but until farmers grow them and supermarkets supply them, blight will continue to strike.
The Sárpo blight resistant potato range is now quite extensive, with seven varieties spanning second early, early maincrop and maincrop. All are available from Thompson & Morgan as single variety and mixed pack tubers.