Industrial agriculture is not just a technical challenge, it hurts the environment too. Researchers in Germany are trying to find other ways to battle with pests, which unlike the pesticides, have less of an ecological impact.
Farmer Max Kainz grows potatoes, he works on a research project with the objective to boost their defense mechanism against diseases in order to reduce their need for pesticides. He is one of the three farmers in Germany participating in the “Potato breeding program”.
“A whole range of criteria apply in potato breeding. Over fifty!” – he says. “Our priority here is resistance to late blight, which is a major problem for us.”
Potato species, which have never been marketed, are cultivated in the Julius Kühn-Institut. Here, a team wants to breed a late blight resistant potato for organic farming. The pollen is manually separated from the flower stem. This way they can achieve targeted pollination.
Resistance in late blight is often found in wild species of potatoes. The bitter substances found in the wild species provide natural protection against pests.
The Institute has a collection of over 6.000 potato plants derived from cultivated and wild species. Some of these species were found 60 years ago in Central and South America. Another 2.800 potato types are currently in test tubes. Seasonal changes are simulated and the tubes are kept protected from pathogens. The blight attacks the potato at an early stage and the potato that will later grow will be inedible.
The researchers can reactivate and grow them any time. Then, by seeing how a potato grows in the field, they can get the information on blight resistance. The team of researchers is already making progress. They are optimistic that they will be able to breed a blight resistant potato species, which will also taste better.
Take a look at this video for more information. The part about this research starts at 06:00 min.