Retailers pledge to sell disease resistant organic potatoes

Signees to the pledge have agreed to favour organic spuds that have been bred to be blight resistant
Signees to the pledge have agreed to favour organic spuds that have been bred to be blight resistant

Numerous retailers have pledged to stock organic potatoes that have been bred to be blight resistant, rather than selling more well-known varieties.

The UK Robust Potato Pledge 2021 has been launched to help growers move away from potatoes that are susceptible to blight, a disease that can devastate entire crops.

Signees have agreed to favour organic spuds that have been bred to be blight resistant, helping the organic sector transition to robust breeds over the next five years.

Blight is a serious problem for all potato growers, but it can be particularly difficult for organic farmers as they don’t use chemical inputs to fight off the disease.

Innovative breeding programmes have, however, been successful in establishing varieties that are blight resistant.

Waitrose, Riverford, Abel and Cole, Agrico, Sarpo, Skea Organics, RBOrganic, and Produce World have all signed up to the pledge, which was launched on Wednesday.

Horticultural advisor Hugh Blogg, who works at the Soil Association, has led on securing commitments to the pledge on behalf of the Organic Growers Alliance.

He said: “The backing of key retailers to stock these products is an exciting next step in the journey towards a more resilient and sustainable potato sector.

"We hope it will provide certified organic farmers with the confidence to grow less-known varieties, as well making it easier in future for other farmers to grow potatoes without using chemicals.”

Marija Rompani, director of sustainability at the John Lewis Partnership, which includes Waitrose, said the firm was looking for ways to improve its impact on biodiversity.

"This pledge is a great opportunity for us to help reduce our environmental impact through innovation," she said.

"We hope that through this leadership, and the leadership of our producers, the rest of the industry will follow suit.”

The pledge agreement builds on research from Organic-PLUS, an EU-project which aims to reduce the use of contentious inputs in organic and non-organic agriculture.

Organisations such as Organic Grower’s Alliance, English Organic Forum, Organic Research Centre, and Biodynamic Association have also pledged their support.

Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) has agreed to help monitor the pledge progress, including looking at the proportion of robust varieties being used in both retail and organic acreage.

As part of the Defra-funded FOOdIVERSE project, CAWR has also set up a “Living Lab” research group to help maximise its impact in year one.

This will bring key stakeholders together across both organic and non-organic potato supply chains to share information and best practice affecting the uptake of robust varieties.