2021 Will Be the Last Year That Cultivariable Offers Potato Tubers

I have been a lucky potato grower for many years because, although I live in a climate that is favorable to light blight, it has never been more than a minor problem toward the end of the growing season.  That has now changed.  Last year, I rogued out a small number of plants spread around the field that showed symptoms, after which no more appeared.  This year, we have had a major outbreak in several areas.  It remains to be seen how much it will spread this year and I will continue to remove plants that show symptoms, but it is now clear that it is established and will continue to spread.  Because the ground does not freeze here, potato tubers are not killed over the winter.  Even with very careful soil prep every year, I still miss quite a few tubers that come back to volunteer and some of those are likely to carry blight into the next growing season.  That’s a bummer, but I have always known that this day would come and I’m glad that I made it this long.

So, practices now have to change in accordance with conditions.  It won’t be possible for me to outdistance blight, so I will have to live with it.  I could choose to grow with fungicides, but it isn’t my preference to fight nature with poisons.  One way to look at this situation is as an opportunity: I now have a better testing ground for selecting resistance to late blight, a valuable trait in potatoes.  But, that means that there is going to be blight in the soil and on the plants and there is no good way to ensure that any tubers that I sell would be free of blight, even if the plants themselves are tolerant or resistant.

This won’t affect true potato seed, other than making it more difficult to collect from susceptible varieties, so I expect that I will continue to breed potatoes and produce TPS.  It also has no effect on the other plants that I work with, as none of them are affected by late blight.

I will offer tubers this year from beds that show no signs of infection, but that will be the last crop of potato tubers that I sell for the foreseeable future.  I have closed preorders since I won’t know which lots are safe to sell until the end of the season.  For preorders already placed, I will issue refunds for any varieties on which I observe late blight as the season goes on.

I will probably figure out a way to offer potato clones without selling field grown tubers, whether that means producing minitubers on potted plants or perhaps offering in-vitro plantlets, but it will take some time to work that out.  Until then, I will only offer TPS.  I may also experiment with moving to a system where I grow potatoes every other year.  Because the blight organism is not able to persist without potato plants to infect, I might be able to bring it back to manageable levels by going a full year without growing potatoes.  If that works, then I could potentially offer field grown tubers intermittently.

3 thoughts on “2021 Will Be the Last Year That Cultivariable Offers Potato Tubers

  1. Larry DePuy says:

    A friend of mine breeds Brugmansias, subfamily Solanoideae, from the cold group Sphaerocarpium. Most of the warm group in the trade are virally infected but symptom free and 2 in the cold group are very susceptible. Many a beauty has been lost to virus. She continues to breed for resistance as well as color, and fragrance etc.

  2. Lissa Bennett says:

    Hi Bill,
    I’d been reading Joseph Lofthouse’s book on Landrace Gardening and your name popped up. I looked at your website and was delighted to see you are here on WA Coast. Your endeavor is inspiring.
    I operate a small native plant nursery near Sequim which I’ve been hauling around with me for the last 25 yrs, starting in Kitsap then 6 yrs in Jefferson currently and ( hopefully for the remainder) in Clallam.
    I love the Ozette potatoes and am intrigued by all that you have to offer.
    I think I want to create a food prairie. Can you recommend varieties that might do well? Perennials?
    Thanks so much and best wishes for success and learning as we go.
    I just placed a small order.

  3. David Corgard says:

    Sad. But an opportunity for me to try growing from TPS!
    Maybe someone out there knows a natural remedy – nature tends to supply cures in the native areas where issues arise. There’s very likely something in S.A. which fights potato blight, whether we’ve found it yet or not.

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