As a result of the continous investment of the potato sector in research and innovation along the complete chain we can see that the EU has become a global motor in the innovative potato chain as is illustrated by the development of new potato varieties, equipment and services. Innovation is one of the key drivers to enhance competitiveness in the agricultural sector. It is also an important factor in generational renewal. Sustainability and circular economy driven projects on sector or company level are numerous.
Potatoes have been the cornerstone in the development of the EU industrialisation, and have proven to become the major staple food in many diets around the world. Given their versatility and potential diversity of culinary preparations, potatoes play a key role and are a crucial product for feeding the growing world’s population. Besides, the potato is a stable crop, which can be grown in many different climates and conditions, and become an important element in the rotation of arable crops, crucial for plant health and biodiversity. This is also one of the reasons why potatoes are used worldwide as a key, nutritious element in dietary traditions. Furthermore, its sustainable character by definition (highly efficient on land and water use) has led to discovery of the possibilities of this commodity in developing countries, traditionally focused on cereals and rice.
The EU and Member States have committed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted in September 2015, including a target to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030, and reduce food losses along the food production and supply chains. In December 2015 the European Commission published a collective set of legislative measures on sustainability, called the ‘Circular Economy Package’, including measures on food waste. Particularly, the ‘Circular Economy’ calls on the Commission to establish a Platform dedicated to food waste prevention. The EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW) has since been created, aiming to support stakeholders in defining measures needed to prevent food waste; sharing best practice; and evaluating progress made over time.Europatat is a member of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste and its subgroup on food waste measurement.
The potato sector is already moving forward to try and reduce waste in as much as possible, thereby being more sustainable for the future of this planet. Potato growing, and agriculture as a whole, is a highly innovative sector. Operators are continuously looking for the most optimal way of growing potatoes, including many innovative technology to determine the most efficient and sustainable growing methods, to optimise quality during growth and harvesting, to reduce waste and less use of energy during storage, and to reduce waste and enhance quality optimisation for preparation and sale.
Over the last years, the European Commission spent increasingly more attention to Research and Innovation, via its flagship initiative ‘Horizon 2020’, running from 2014 to 2020. The programme foresees in €80 bil¬lion for funding of Research and Innovation projects, with some projects focussing on research excellence, and others on innovation with special emphasis on the involvement of SMEs. In order to avoid that research outcomes gather dust on the shelves, the Commission created different European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) which connects researchers, advisors, and end users of the new technologies. Also for agriculture an EIP was created (EIP-Agri). In 2018, a new cycle is expected to start for the adoption of the ninth framework programme for re-search and innovation (FP9) to be effective by 2020.
The European Union should continue to stimulate research and innovation under a continuation of the Horizon 2020 scheme and in the European Innovation Partnerships. While focusing on priorities to improve the quality and competitiveness of EU agriculture products, the research and innovation strategy should be geared towards a supply chain approach, with priorities also considering aspects relating to packing, storage and distribution, cold chain efficiency, sustainability and nutrition, involving all the partners of the supply chain in research and innovation projects. With the technical input provided by the members, Europatat aims at becoming a leader in setting of pri¬orities and being directly involved in relevant research projects lead by universities or research institutes to collaborate in the dissemination of project results relevant for the sector. It is important for the sector that problems on the effect of certain diseases on potatoes and the lack of pesticides is addressed in these projects.
New plant breeding techniques (NPBTs)
Potatoes are the most important vegetable crop and the fourth most important food crop in the world. The potato is an important food for the fresh market and it is also the raw material for many processing industries. New varieties are central to the health and growth of the European potato industry and for feeding the world’s growing population. Research on the genetic improvement of this crop is therefore important. Breeding techniques are used by the sector to address market and production limiting traits. Indeed, potato breeders aim to produce new cultivars better adapted than existing ones to conditions in which they are going to be grown and stored, and the ways in which they are going to be used.
In the European Union there is an ongoing debate on whether the resulting plants and the products of new plant breeding techniques fall within the definition of GMO in scientific and legal terms. Europatat position is for the protection of a high-performing, innovative and diversified European plant breeding industry and supports a reasonable approach towards new breeding techniques in line with the recommendations of Member States’ Experts and the vast majority of scientists.