The UK Robust Potato Pledge 2021 has been launched to help growers move away from potatoes that are susceptible to blight – a disease that can quickly devastate entire potato crops.
Signees have agreed to favour organic spuds that have been bred to be blight resistant, rather than selling more well-known varieties – helping the organic potato sector transition to 100% robust potato breeds over the next five years.
Waitrose, Riverford, Abel and Cole, Agrico, Sarpo, Skea Organics, RBOrganic, and Produce World have all signed up to the pledge, which was launched today (Wednesday 13 October) at the Organic Grower’s Alliance’s Organic Matters Horticulture Conference.
Horticultural advisor Hugh Blogg – who works in the Soil Association’s farming team supporting farmers to adopt sustainable practices – has led on securing commitments to the pledge on behalf of the Organic Growers Alliance. He said: “It is great to see so many retailers signing up to this pledge, which we hope will help to unite supply chains in the organic potato sector. Blight is a serious problem for all potato growers, but it can be particularly difficult for organic farmers as they don’t use chemical inputs to fight off the disease. Innovative breeding programmes have had huge success at establishing varieties that are blight resistant, while still providing all the qualities that make potatoes a delicious choice for shoppers. The backing of key retailers to stock these products is an exciting next step in the journey towards a more resilient and sustainable potato sector. We hope it will provide certified organic farmers with the confidence to grow less-known varieties, as well making it easier in future for other farmers to grow potatoes without using chemicals.”
Marija Rompani, Director of Ethics and Sustainability, at the John Lewis Partnership, which includes Waitrose, said: “With COP26 on the horizon we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our impact on nature and biodiversity. This pledge is a great opportunity for us to help reduce our environmental impact through innovation.”
The pledge agreement builds on research from Organic-PLUS, an EU-project which aims to reduce the use of contentious inputs in organic and non-organic agriculture. Organisations such as Organic Grower’s Alliance, English Organic Forum, Organic Research Centre, and Biodynamic Association have also pledged their support.
Phil Sumption, Organic Growers Alliance, said: “I am delighted to see the launch of the Potato Pledge, and to see the UK following in the footsteps of the highly successful potato covenant model in the Netherlands. They have seen a huge uptake of blight resistant 'robust' varieties by working across the food chain. The potential benefits to growers of higher yields and less sprays, and to the environment, are massive. There are many great blight-resistant varieties out there with good culinary properties acceptable to consumers.”