Scotland’s favourite potatoes are under threat as experts warn Maris Piper and King Edward potatoes could soon be impossible to grow. Diseases such as blight have been ravaging traditional types of potatoes that remain popular with shoppers because they are tasty and easy to cook.
But experts in Scotland are working to create new breeds of blight-resistant potato by crossing them with the native South American ancestors of the original varieties. Scientists then send their creations to taste panels to make sure they will be popular with customers.
The challenge they face is that consumers remain determined to buy traditional varieties such as King Edwards.
Max Coleman (pictured above), a potato scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, said: “People are familiar with King Edward potatoes and like them but don’t realise they’re no longer a viable crop.
“We can guarantee that in 20 years’ time we won’t be growing Maris Piper because they won’t be viable. Even now King Edward is one you don’t see so much. But they have this reputation so people still want them. It’s disappearing because of the disease problem we face.”
Now scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens and the James Hutton Institute in Dundee have begun crossing modern varieties of potato with their traditional wild ancestors from South and Central America.
Wild varieties have a natural resistance to blight but often don’t resemble the potatoes customers are used to buying as they can appear knobbly or have different coloured flesh.