Fungal diseases such as Late Blight and Early Blight spot are very weatherdependent – dry, hot summers inhibit the diseases, while humid weather with temperatures between 18 and 22°C allows them to spread. During the growing season, it is necessary to spray intensively – especially against fungal diseases, which can potentially destroy a field completely in just five days.
Plant protection products are expensive and labor-intensive, so we all have an interest in minimizing consumption. Therefore, we are putting a lot of effort into advising farmers on their use of plant protection, and into creating new varieties that are more disease-resistant.
Effort 1: Late Blight warning
During the growing season from 1 June to 15 September, KMC offers twice-weekly guidance for potato growers based on local weather information. In this way, growers know exactly how much to spray to prevent mold. The website has more than 20,000 visitors during the growing season.
In summer 2022, the potato growers who followed KMC Agro’s guidance reduced their consumption of plant protection products by 14%. This is on par with previous years – except for summer 2018, which was very hot and dry
Effort 2: New varieties
We can also reduce the need for spraying by developing new varieties which are more disease-resistant. It is a method that has existed for as long as we have been growing potatoes. The challenge is that it takes up to 12 years to develop a new variety – without any guarantee that the more fungal-resistant potato variety also delivers on other key parameters such as starch content.
KMC is committed to getting a new, resistant variety in the ground. This requires the creation of many genetic make-ups. Therefore, we are pleased that we have already exceeded our target for the number of clones. In the 2021/2022 financial year, we created 14,000 clones, which is 4,000 more than the target that was set for 2024/2025. Thus, we are already well ahead of our goal.
New possibilities with CRISPR technology
One way to preserve the positive characteristics of a particular variety – and simply add resistance – is by using the CRISPR technique. The technique uses a vector to create mutations in the plant’s DNA, thereby producing a mutation that is more resistant to the disease. Just like a vaccine that improves our immune system.
In other words, you simply add a new property to a known variety. If successful, it can halve the use of plant protection products – and reduce the time needed to develop a new variety by 3-6 years.
Today, the technology can only be used in European laboratories – and not in the fields – because it is covered by the EU’s GMO legislation. However, CRISPR is widely used in the USA and Canada. At KMC, we are working together with Aalborg University and the University of Copenhagen, so we are ready to get started immediately as soon as the EU hopefully approves the technology.