Open Day 2011 a great success

Our ninth Open Day was on Friday 5 August when we welcomed about 50 guests to Henfaes to hear about the activities of the Trust over the last year.

The morning session was a series of talks:
David Shaw, Director of the Trust, welcomed guests and explained how the Trust was set up and what it aims to do to select potatoes and tomatoes resistant to late-blight disease. He explained that SRT belongs to a group of growers and entrepreneurs that have been developing a Welsh brand of potato crisps - Jones o Gymru (Jones from Wales).  The crisps were launched at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in July this year.  Sarpo growers in Wales will be providing potatoes for crisping in the coming months.

Simon White, Trials and Seed Manager, outlined how the new strains of blight including the superaggressive Blue 13, have overcome the resistance of many so-called resistant varieties.  Simon explained how non-Sarpo resistant varieties now have official resistance scores that are substantially lower than they were a few years ago. In contrast, Sarpo scores have remained high or in some cases have actually increased.. Progress in multiplying Sarpo seed by Welsh farmers was highlighted and the Safe Haven status of the farms growing PreBasic as well as Basic Certified seed was explained.  Sarpo varieties have great potential for seed exports and our first consignments have been despatched to Pakistan and Nepal this last year.

Moses Nyongesa, orginally from Kenya, told the meeting about his research on the evolution of the blight fungus, Phytophthora infestans.  Moses is now a PhD candidate, registered at Bangor University, working at Henfaes and also at Teagasc in Carlow, Ireland.  Moses is finding out what happens when the most common strains of blight, Blue 13 and Pink 6 are mixed and allowed to mate to form oospores in a polytunnel at Henfaes.  The ability of oospores of the fungus to survive in the tunnel between crops is confirmed and the characteristics of hybrid blight generated in the tunnel is being defined.

Jamie Stroud introduced his project aimed at the breeding of new tomato varieties with late-blight resistance for outdoor cropping.  Jamie will commence a KESS PhD studentship in October 2011. The project is a collaborative one between SRT, Bangor University and ProVeg Ltd of Cambridge.

Lunch was sponsored by Seedsmen Thompson and Morgan Ltd and was provided by the 1815 Deli in Bangor. Almost all of the delicious dishes featured one or other variety of freshly harvested Sarpo potatoes.Staff at Henfaes provided a continuous supply of freshly fried chips from Sarpo Mira and Blue Danube throughout lunch.

In the afternoon, visitors were shown a trial of Sarpo and other varieties infected with strain Blue 13 and a trial to determine how various levels of Nitrogen affect the growth.of the plants and the yeild and quality of the harvest of Sarpo varieties and control varieties.  A preliminary trial of PAS100 composted green and food waste from a County Council composting facility was visited on sandy soil near the sea (Morfa Canol).  It was clear that the Sarpo variety, Blue Danube, responded to the application of different amounts of compost by increasing growth. It remains to be seen how compost affects late-blight resistance of foliage and yield of tubers. Last but not least, guests were able to see a trial of well established varieties of tomato growing in the field.  despite the cold summer weather, ripe fruit was forming on several varieties.  The plants will soon be challenged by blight strain Blue 13, already present on potatoes growing in the same field.