Alemania: Potato industry , Potential and challenges
The Deputy Chairman of the German potato industry union (Union der Deutschen Kartoffelwirtschaft e.V. – UNIKA), Dr. Heinrich Böhm, discusses the state of the sector.
In Germany, potato cultivation takes place on more than 29,000 farms with a combined area of about 250,000 hectares. The total includes approximately 20,000 small producers with less than five hectares of potato cultivation, with the remaining 9,000 farms growing larger areas of the crop. On average, Germany producers 10 to 11 million tonnes of potatoes annually, making it the largest potato producer in the European Union (EU).
This sector generates an estimated value added return of more than three billion euros each year through sales of three main income streams: food, industrial and seed potatoes. These dimensions underline the importance of the potato sector in Germany – and the industry’s important position the EU – yet, on average, the German potato crop only accounts for about two percent of the country’s farmland.
The challenges facing the industry include preserving the value and diversity of the potato as a food in the consciousness of society. Hopes for positive developments on the demand side were realized in 2017 when an increase in consumption reversed the declining trend for the first time in many years. This needs to be expanded at all levels, whether through a strict quality program or attractive marketing and communication concepts. The scope for promotion is large, considering the potato has high nutritional content and are water efficient.
Another example is the steady development in quality assurance and traceability. Since 2004, UNIKA has been a founding shareholder of Fruit, Vegetable and Potato committee of Germany’s QS quality assurance scheme, and our common goal is to find practicable answers to specific questions in order to be able to offer high-quality food reliably and safely along the production chain. About 32,000 system partners, including more than 3,300 from the potato sector, are located along the Fruit, Vegetables and Potatoes QS chain.
Also important to the sector is constructive dialogue with food retailers. The requirement profiles of potato buyers are becoming more and more detailed; they now go beyond the usual industry norms, and can include certification for quality specifications such as form and inputs. In addition, answers to societal demands regarding sustainability and resource efficiency must be developed. Before these numerous tasks, however, it must not be overlooked that potato cultivation also depends on the availability of suitable plant-protection products to prevent resistance and allow production of high-quality products. These measures can also be used to counteract yield and storage losses.
From UNIKA’s point of view, action areas in the political sphere include the expansion of federal research institutes, the protection of phytosanitary hygiene standards in Germany, the reduced availability of plant protection products and the expansion of project-related research funding into the outlined subject areas. Additionally, we are facing rapidly changing conditions in the potato industry as well – from shifting climatic factors to the entry into agriculture 4.0.
In order to meet these complex demands facing the industry, the development and expansion of intensive research work is required for potatoes which is a crop that has been grown for a very long time. Examples include resistance breeding against new and old pests using innovative techniques, the development of integrated pest management programs and the improvement of nutrient efficiency. The demand of our society for more environmental protection, while maintaining high-quality food at favorable prices, can only be achieved with the help of plant breeding. Here, society has to decide on the priorities. These goals can only be achieved with the help of new breeding methods, which can significantly speed up the work. Cross-breeding of natural resistances into our commercial cultivars using conventional methods can take up to 20 years to achieve a marketable variety, but with the help of CRISPR-Cas this could be done in half the time.
As the fourth most important staple food globally, after rice, wheat and corn, with total production of about 380 million tonnes, potatoes are grown on about 20 million hectares. The potato has the potential to be part of the solution to current issues in world nutrition.
An important task here is to adapt staffing levels in the ministries and authorities in order to be able to act flexibly and in a timely manner. Especially in the emerging and developing countries, an increase in potato cultivation can be observed. The expertise and know-how of German breeding companies can be of great help for this development, provided that questions of plant variety protection are clarified and the export requirements for seed potatoes are regulated.
UNIKA supports further development to the best of its ability. At the heart of our professional work are our four commissions:
Techniques of the potato industry
Quality assurance and trade issues
These cover the relevant areas of the potato industry, and in addition, working groups support the professional examination of complex issues and enable a differentiated view.
During the past few years, a working group has prepared draft Guidelines for Integrated Pest Management in Potato Cultivation. It concluded the task in the spring of this year, and the final deliberations in the committees are nearing completion.
As a source of inspiration, UNIKA bundles innovative ideas and mediates between practice and institutions. In the field of alternative methods for herbicide reduction, solutions – including the use of electric current – are being investigated at the Dethlingen Experimental Station (VSD). The association has also initiated a research project on nitrate determination in potatoes, supported by the QS Fruit, Vegetables and Potatoes Science Fund, which is being carried out by the University of Göttingen.
We look forward to having PotatoEurope back in Germany in 2018 at Rittergut Bockerode, near Hanover, and feel UNIKA is an ideal partner for this leading technical trade fair for the potato industry, which is organized by the DLG. At the event, we will offer a central starting point for visitors, and will powerfully present the German potato industry. In addition to many topics relating to the future of potato production, innovations in breeding, technical developments and the topic of precision farming in potato cultivation will certainly occupy a large area at this year’s exhibition.
The PotatoEurope 2018 trade fair is organized by the DLG with support of UNIKA.
For more information:
Dr. Wilfried Wolf
Tel.: +49 (0) 69 247 88 272
Tel: +49 69 247 88 237