With its DuRPh research project, Wageningen UR is working on a prototype of a potato variety that will have a high resistance to Phytophthora for many years.
Prof. Anton Haverkort, researcher at Wageningen UR: ‘This is the biggest and most important genetic potato modification project so far. We're using the potato’s own genes to make an existing variety resistant. Over 50% of the chemicals we're using in agriculture are sprayed onto the potato to prevent disease. So there is a lot to be gained.’
Healthy seed is also very important for combating diseases, according to Haverkort. "The potato is propagated in clones. This means that if a seed potato is diseased, all its offspring will also be diseased. The Netherlands is exporting more seed potatoes than all other countries put together. However, in many places in the world, it’s still very difficult to keep seed clean. Local governments should subsidise awareness projects to combat these issues. Such projects would pay for themselves, because land, water and fertiliser would be better used."
Prevention is better than cure
There's a great deal of interest abroad for the Dutch cultivation methods that help prevent diseases. The Netherlands has several variety-comparison programmes to examine which crops do best under which conditions. They also use decision-supporting systems. This means that the farmer doesn’t spray and fertilise at random, but first examines whether there is a need. Soil analysis could show, for example, whether there are enough minerals in the soil or whether extra fertilisation is necessary. The weather forecast could predict how wet the leaf will become and therefore how susceptible the crop will be to disease.