Consumers place great store by consistent quality. When they buy their favourite food products, they always expect the food to look the same, smell the same, feel the same and taste the same. Whether these are sweets, a carton of milk, bread or a portion of chips, everything must be exactly right. This is why the continuing development of the potato is going ahead at full speed.
Of course, the expectations of the consumer aren’t something new. The difference between wanting to be good, better or best has pushed both producers and the market to ever-higher standards. Also where natural products are concerned. Each link in the chain wants to excel on quality and that influences the speed of technological developments and methods of breeding in the potato sector. Because the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
‘The art of breeding is more than ever before about breeding consistent varieties’, argues biochemist Hans van Doorn, who works on quality, biometrics and qualitative genetics at HZPC. ‘Thanks to technology we are increasingly getting a grip on potatoes. The breeding and cultivation of all those different varieties under variable conditions is a complex process. But because we're able to measure and influence an increasing number of cultivation factors and quality characteristics, consistency is coming within reach. Insight, analysis and coherence are the keywords in this process. The more details we can fully control, the better we can serve our customers with the potatoes they need for their products. All year round.’
New technology makes it possible to detect relevant quality characteristics more quickly and to remove undesirable deficiencies. For example, the traditional underwater weight will be replaced by dry matter-related measuring, while univariate measuring (one characteristics) is being replaced by multivariate approaches in which the relationship of individual characteristics are assessed.
It is unthinkable that potatoes can continue to be subjectively assessed on the basis of their exterior. Instruments and powerful equipment enable us to look right through the potato, in a manner of speaking. This is leading to increasing lists of objective criteria and standards for quality, for example, by measuring dry matter, texture, colour, sugars and acrylamide. Each potato product has its own product profile and the challenge is to supply suitable potato varieties with that profile throughout the entire season.
Gain in time through genetics
The application of state-of-the-art technology means that HZPC can gain time during breeding. Van Doorn is therefore glad that the high-tech developments are progresssing so fast. ‘Our greatest limitation was that both the strong points and the deficiencies of new varieties only became visible after five to seven years of trialling and testing. The innovative use of available technology saves us more and more time in trialling and testing. On the basis of detailed DNA profiles and related associations with the desired characteristics, we can interpret the value of a variety better and faster. The sooner we know why a potato is doing well or not under certain conditions, the earlier we can adjust.
Van Doorn emphasises how important it is to involve the growers in the entire development process. ‘Because even a perfect variety can fail in the field. Once the variety has left our hands, others will largely determine its success. We do have some influence, of course, via proper crop advice and supervision; this means that we're also accepting our responsibility for consistency in that area. The more details we provide in comprehensible and uniform language, the greater the chance of a successful harvest. Because, as with breeding, an integral approach to influential factors in both cultivation and storage is also of paramount importance. In short, clear user instructions help the quality of the processes and determine the final result.
It is already used in America: precision farming. Potato growing is tailor-made work there, based on information that is relevant for the successful cultivation of varieties before and during the growing process. Moreover, by using technological measuring instruments, a maximum output with a minimum of chemicals is the aim. An example is the use of intelligent sensors on the tractor that indicates whether or not extra fluid fertiliser is needed in some parts of the field. GPS and satellites are also used in the vast agricultural fields in the United States.
In Europe, farming is much more fragmented and conditions vary enormously. The smaller scale makes the use of technological aids in cropping much more difficult in our part of the world, but we're heading in that direction, that's for sure, says Hans van Doorn.
‘Consistency is also important for farmers. They want a certain number of tons per hectare of a quality that comes up to the expectations of their buyers. That’s why it’s so important that we, as a sector, raise the potato to a higher level together.
HZPC Potato Days
’Consistency’ is an important theme at the coming HZPC Potato Days, which will be held at our offices in Joure from 5 to 7 November.There will be a special room on the 3rd floor, where we will focus on the various perspectives of ‘consistency’ in the potato chain.
Our aim is to inspire you and afterwards talk with you further either during or after the Potato Days about the opportunities and possibilities that this might offer for your company chain. We therefore look forward to welcoming you at our Potato Days.