Research & Development

Breeding is part of the core business of our company. Our breeders are successfully developing new varieties which perform well under the most challenging climatic conditions. With a portfolio of over 80 varieties HZPC can meet the demands of both fresh produce markets and the processing industry while taking various growth conditions into account worldwide. New cultivation techniques are also being worked upon at our hi-tech R&D location. These will doubtless make a significant contribution to the HZPC results in the long term.

New varieties

Variety development is by definition a long term process. Although considerable efforts are made to shorten the time period, looking ahead remains crucial. When bolstering our range of varieties, the priority lies with varieties for the areas in the world where we see opportunities for expansion. We are working on robust and stable varieties which are resistant to extreme climates and diseases and also require less fertiliser to provide a good yield.

Promising varieties which we have recently developed include: Fortus, Sunita, Joly, Primabelle, Noblesse, Farida, Panamera, HZD06-1249 and Alverstone Russet. The variety Farida has been specially developed to manage with little water. One measure of success in variety development is exceeding the target of 50 hectares of seed potatoes in Europe. Gioconda, Bellini and Safari achieved this growth in acreage this year.

We are developing varieties for the (sub)tropical zone together with the International Potato Centre (CIP). This cooperation adds a broad biodiversity to a stable contribution to the availability of food. Part of the licence income from these new varieties will be donated to the Benefit Sharing Fund of the International Treaty. This fund supports farmers in the maintenance of biodiversity in developing countries.

Genetic sources

Plant breeding is of huge social importance and genetic resources form a significant basis for this. The Convention on Biological Diversity (1994) deems that these genetic resources are no longer freely available as countries have sovereign rights over genetic resources which are located on their territory. Access is regulated in the Nagoya Protocol of 2014. That is an international agreement for regulation of the exchange of genetic resources. It is essential that every breeder can demonstrate that the genetics used have been obtained legitimately.

HZPC is not an advocate of patents on biological characteristics. HZPC adheres to breeders rights under the UPOV Convention so that a better combination of genetics is available for subsequent crossings.

HZPC has made voluntary agreements with organisations in Peru where support is provided for farmers who maintain the biodiversity of potatoes.

New breeding techniques

R&D uses the latest breeding techniques to shorten the development time for varieties. Growth progression has thus been made in the field of genomic selection, meaning seedlings can be selected earlier in the breeding programme. With the assistance of genetic markers it is possible to keep up to date with which genes the plant receives from the parents and it is also possible to select accurately. This was previously only possible later in the breeding programme through extensive screening of a large quantity of plant material.

Hybrid breeding is also high on our agenda. A team has been formed to work on the development of the hybrid potato. This involves setting up pure parental lines via inbreeding. Crossing these results in far fewer undesirable characteristics being carried over into the descendants. It is a breeding technique which puts us in a position to make genetic progress more quickly. We are also looking into the possibilities which may emerge from growing potatoes from seed in the long term. A number of technical barriers have been overcome in the meantime. 

There is, however, still the question of whether a seed crop can compete with a tuber crop in terms of growing power and length of season. Selection over time must show this. We expect to have a prototype available within five years.

Future developments

There has been a big increase in the amount of data. We continue to use our expertise to turn this data into intelligence. Product managers and breeders remain the architects of the desired varieties from the sector. We wish to breed with complete marker control within five years with the assistance of fields of action such as biometrics, bioinformatics and molecular biology where performances are previewed with the assistance of mathematical models and new varieties can be developed more quickly and effectively. Breeders then work with a more objective start.

The Netherlands enjoys a strong position in the world of potatoes. The role of the government is of strategic importance if the strength of this position is to be maintained internationally. Legislation must be arranged in such a way that it supports the sector and ensures that innovation is not obstructed. We hope that the EU will make good on its promise of indicating whether these new techniques may be applied without GMO status by the end of 2016. Techniques such as cisgenesis and CRISPR are important to HZPC. HZPC acknowledges that the breeding methods must be safe. It does however not see any reason for assigning GMO status to these techniques.