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Sarpo Potatoes

In Hungary, during the 1950s, Dr. Istavaán Sárvári led a potato research team working on resistance to both blight (Phytophthora infestans) and virus diseases. The communist government closed down his breeding program because of a dispute over his breeding methods. We do not know what this dispute was, but it was probably the old Mendelian-v-biometrician quarrel. Dr Sárvári then returned to the Sárvári family farm and he took many of his potato lines with him. His people have continued his breeding ever since. Recently, by special agreement, the Sárvári Research Trust was established at Bangor, in Wales, and various lines were introduced to Britain as Sárpo (i.e., Sárvári + potato) cultivars with high levels of horizontal resistance to blight and viruses.

In Britain, the National Institute for Agricultural Botany (NIAB) has a rating system for horizontal resistance to blight, where 9 = very resistant, and 1 = susceptible, when the crops are not sprayed with a fungicide. According to the British Potato Council, NIAB ratings of 6 or 7 (along with all other methods of control and avoidance) should prove sufficient, in most years, for organic growers to grow a crop with no copper sprays.

In 2004, nineteen clones of Sarpo potatoes were field tested in Wales for blight resistance, including the nationally listed cultivars, Mira and Axona. A further nine commercially available varieties were also tested. These included cultivars with high NIAB scores for blight resistance, namely Stirling (8), Lady Balfour (7) and Cara (6); and cultivars with low NIAB scores for blight resistance, namely King Edward (3), Wilja (3) and Pentland Crown (3).

The trials showed that all of the Sarpo lines have NIAB level 9 horizontal resistance to blight. With only one exception, all the Sarpo lines had higher yields than the commercially available varieties, when grown under organic farming conditions without fungicides.

Mira and Axona are registered main crop Sarpo cultivars in Britain and both have exceptional resistance to blight, viruses, and other pests and diseases. They are ideal for organic growers, and they have high yields of large tubers. They both have a red skin and a white flesh. They produce vigorous plants, with heavy yields of floury (high dry matter) tubers, excellent for fries, baking, roast and mash. At ambient temperatures, the tubers store well into spring without softening or premature sprouting.