Farmers should grow blight-resistant Sárpo potatoes
Gardeners and allotment growers can fight back against today’s accusations that they have ‘fuelled a national potato shortage’. According to the Potato Council, ‘grow your own’ gardeners are responsible for spreading the fungal blight that has devastated potato crops across the UK. But with gardeners and farmers alike having suffered one of the worst growing seasons in a generation – warm, moist conditions are ideal for the spread of blight – it seems unlikely that the blame can be put on any one set of potato growers. 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.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, says Thompson & Morgan. A solution is at hand for home gardeners and allotment growers who may have experienced blight this year. They can grow Sárpo potatoes. On the official scale of blight resistance, Sárpo (pronounced ‘Sharpo’) varieties are the highest ranking. Sárpo potatoes were first bred in Hungary by the Sárvári family. 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. And they store incredibly well too. Gardeners can expect high yields, even in poorer soils, whilst the Sárpo range’s resistance to disease and drought means no expensive chemical sprays or excessive irrigation.
The chairman of the Potato Council was quoted today 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.
Beat blight with Sárpo
Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.