Research &

Research and breeding: optimise and look ahead

Breeding techniques are rapidly evolving. This is necessary to keep pace with global human and societal developments. The capabilities and know-how of HZPC R&D in Metslawier are highly specialised, and we apply them consciously and responsibly. We are furthering fundamental scientific knowledge and working on the application of new plant breeding techniques such as molecular markers and cisgenesis.

As world leader in the field of potato breeding, we recommend more than anything that common sense should prevail: billions of mouths need to receive adequate, healthy, responsibly grown, user-friendly and tasty food. This requires common sense, pro-activity and legislation that support people, business and the environment in a sustainable manner.

Ivory Russet
Ivory Russet

Changing needs and global challenges create new markets and different demand, creating opportunities for HZPC’s breeders to excel. We accelerate natural selection, so that our potatoes keep pace with rapid human and social developments, and the agricultural changes and constraints that these generate. The R&D team is working on increasing knowledge about potato breeding, an art which is all about speed and control. One measure of success in variety development is exceeding the target of 100 hectares of seed potatoes for a variety. This year Ivory Russet, a white-fleshed early variety suitable for French Fries, achieved this growth in acreage. In addition Plant Breeders’ Rights were registered for eleven new candidate varieties this year.

R&D researches into the molecular biology, biochemistry, genetic base, characteristics and diseases of potatoes. We breed varieties to meet the requirements of value chains in sectors such as Retail Fresh; to address emerging consumer trends such as taste experience, health and convenience; and to respond to the agricultural and agronomic developments that we see, such as reduced availability of fertile agricultural land, and salinity, drought and heat.

HZPC is currently investing EUR1 million in the expansion and modernisation of the R&D facility in Metslawier. So that disease research can take place in a single laboratory and molecular research can grow within its existing lab.

Novel plant Breeding Techniques (NBTs) and legislation

Through the application of new developments in plant breeding techniques, such as molecular markers and cisgenesis, we ensure an accelerated, safe and value-adding combination of genetic variation within the species. Read more

Selection based on characteristics

In addition to high yields, the modern grower is looking for the balance between healthy soil and efficient use of nutrients on the one hand and minimal use of crop protection and fertiliser on the other. In this quest, the goals of conventional and organic potato are gradually converging. In breeding new standards are being set, due to the use of molecular markers: clones that are susceptible to nematode and the Yntn virus are resolutely excluded. In upcoming varieties the number of multiple resistances are increasing, to the benefit of the grower but also with a positive influence on quality in yield and for the environment.

This doesn’t make selection by substantive quality characteristics any easier. A property such as dry matter or frying colour alone is nowadays no longer enough. HZPC has a lot of knowledge in this area that we use in variety development and strategic discussions with clients. We consider every aspect of a potato in its wider context. This benefits every grower, including organic ones. We look at potatoes as they fit into the big picture, serving the interests of people, the economy and the environment in a way that’s sustainable.

Market-driven and future-driven

Along with 39 affiliated breeders, our breeders search for potato characteristics that add value to the chains within the market sectors of HZPC: Traditional, Retail Fresh plus the three Processing Sectors of French Fries, Crisps and Peeled. We work with over 20 product profiles that the sectors combine with their markets in product-market combinations. Marker technology delivers the requisite fast, accurate determination of hereditary characteristics in new crosses.

Value chains demand more potatoes, and more suitable potatoes, for their customers: the growing middle-class in emerging economies. Moreover, as a living product the potato requires local production. This is environmentally-friendly and often has to be done under challenging agricultural and/or agronomic conditions such as extreme heat, drought and salinity - many exponentially-growing metropolises are to be found in fertile river deltas.

Our breeders form part of the sector teams and translate the demands, including of course future demands, from the market sectors to R&D. In this way we jointly develop, for example, Retail Fresh potato varieties that meet the requested product profiles within the various growing regions. Sometimes we develop distinct breeds for the value chains, such as Whitney for the US market or Orlena for the European yellow-fleshed potato market. We also develop widely utilisable varieties with a consistent taste such as Annabelle, Marylin, Jennifer and Leontine.

Fundamental and applied

Universities such as Wageningen University Research centre, increasingly depend on research funded by external parties, and thus have an increasing tendency towards applied science. In this sense, we ‘compete’ with each other, while breeding companies are in desperate need for the fundamental scientific research where Wageningen increasingly lacks funds.

Thanks to our cutting-edge R&D environment combined with international recruitment, HZPC manages to attract new colleagues with the appropriate competencies. HZPC R&D employs some 75 people. 40 percent of whom have a university, BSC or higher education, including 9 PhDs.

Jeroen Bakker, Sector Breeder Retail Fresh

“The breeding programme for the Retail Fresh sector is probably one of the most complex and comprehensive in variety development. The length of the chain and geographical diversity mean that a distinction can be made between many - and many different – market needs.

Due to the long development time of new varieties, we are continuously working to identify future demand for characteristics on the basis of emerging trends. Thanks to the global focus on developed retail markets, we see a strong alignment between the varieties in our pipeline and the wishes of the market. Creating very promising prospects for HZPC.

It is crucial for us to meet the diverse expectations of the various different consumers. Performance, convenience and taste are the three most important reasons for the success of our varieties that reach consumers via the supermarket. Our efforts are very heavily focused on ensuring consistency of quality and flavour. In addition, we work on characterising the nutritional value of potatoes, and where possible adapt them to respond to the consumer health food trend.

After a decade of hard work, we have managed to qualify the tastes of our varieties and we now start to implement this knowledge in our breeding programme. And we are more than happy to take on the challenge to create the perfect variety for the entire chain, from seed potato grower to future consumers!”