The humble potato is all set for a makeover in the Doaba heartland, promising to turn the fortunes of farmers who, revolted by the repeated failure to find any takers for their produce, have been dumping hundreds of quintals of potatoes on Jalandhar roads year after year.
In the absence of crop standardisation, sometimes farmers do not get enough revenue for their yield. In a positive move, scientists of Thapar University will standardise the potato crop by providing farmers potato tubers which will cover the entire potato belt of the state in the coming three or four years.
Centre of Relevance and Excellence (CORE) of the Thapar University is working towards this direction and has already signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Jalandhar Potato Growers’ Association.
Under the three-year MoU, CORE will supply standardised potato tubers cultivated in a state-of-the-art plant tissue culture facility.
CORE is already providing quality potato seeds to PEPSICO India holdings for potato chips. Mahindra Agribusiness, Ballarpur Industries and McCain Foods, are other big companies taking help from CORE for potato crop standardisation. The centre also stores developed disease-free clonal rootstocks of apple for orchard growers of Himachal Pradesh.
As per the need of farmers, CORE has developed standardised potato tubers in controlled conditions, thus ensuring that the crop is disease-free. A pest-free crop will not only result in an appreciable increase in yield, but will also bring about a sharp decline in the input costs of farmers due to little or no dependence on insecticides and pesticides.
Since tubers are the starting point for successive generations of potatoes, it is vital to grow high-quality, disease-free tubers. However, this can be difficult in the field. During the growing season, growers check fields visually for signs of disease and remove infected plants; this process is called roguing. However, visual inspection, particularly for primary infection, is unreliable, time consuming, and requires a trained eye. CORE has developed technology which can overcome this.
“Plant tissue culture is one way of ensuring that potato plants are disease-free. This system also saves space and time. Tissue culture permits very rapid propagation. Under the traditional system of propagation, one tuber yields approximately eight daughter tubers in the course of a year.
However, in plant tissue culture, techniques can create 100,000 identical plantlets in eight months and if transferred to the field, they could yield 50 tonnes of potatoes,” said Dr Sanjai Saxena, coordinator of CORE.
“There is a need to achieve standardisation of the potato crop which is required in the food processing industry. Only a few farmers are growing it. We have come up with a technique in which every single plant will be a replica, which can be preserved at our centre. Thus, the yield of the entire belt will be standardised and disease-free,” Saxena added.
A potato grower from the Doaba region, Surjit Singh said, “This would be of great benefit to people testing potato varieties. New varieties can be obtained from international sources in plantlet form, packaged in a closed laboratory container free of soil contaminants, and multiplied rapidly by tissue culture for field trials. The varieties can then be evaluated quickly as to how well they perform under local conditions, including the presence of diseases and pests.”