Are potatoes endangered by warmer weather?

Potato harvest

The humble potato may have a hard time growing in the UK in the years to come due to climate change, the researchers warned.

The fields of Scotland grow a quarter of Britain’s potato crop.

However, family favorites like Ayrshire and Maris Piper are said to be at risk as temperatures rise.

The James Hutton Institute (JHI) in Invergowrie, just outside Dundee, is now trying to find varieties that will grow in warmer conditions.

The annual retail value of potato products across the UK is estimated at over £ 2 billion.

Professor Lesley Torrance, scientific director of the research organization JHI, warned that climate change poses an “existential threat” to the potato industry.

He said it was necessary to rapidly develop new varieties that could cope with rising temperatures.

The institute is using an experimental farm to study how crops grow and has a large collection of potato species from around the world.

Professor Torrance told BBC Scotland’s Landward that climate change was a big problem.

“Potatoes are a cool climate crop,” he said. “And obviously the climate change predictions are that we’re going to have hotter and drier summers. So that’s a big deal.”

Prof Lesley Torrance and Cammy Wilson

Professor Lesley Torrance told BBC’s Landward that new varieties are needed

The institute’s crop simulation research modeled what are called plant heat stress days.

This is when temperatures reach above 25 ° C, causing crops like potatoes to change their purpose from growing to fighting heat stress and reducing yields.

‘By 2030 there will be perhaps up to 60 heat stress days in the growing season,’ explained Professor Torrance.

“It’s been two months, so this will have a major impact, mainly in the south and east of England, but Scotland is also affected.”

Potato harvest

Research is underway near Dundee

Among the varieties analyzed are those of the Andes in South America, considered the origin of the cultivation of potatoes.

“We are using this collection to extract traits that will help us with things like heat tolerance, drought, pest and disease resistance,” said Professor Torrance.

“The answer is that we can breed new varieties, but we have to do it fairly quickly. We want new varieties that can adapt to the warmer climate.

“We need to develop new varieties in time for the huge problems resulting from hot weather and drought that pose an existential threat to the industry.”

Landward’s Cammy Wilson’s Prof Lesley Torrance interview can be seen on BBC Scotland on Thursday at 8.30pm.

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