Breeding Maris Piper

The origins of Maris Piper go back to 1952, when C. Ellenby at King’s College, University  of Durham (now the University of Newcastle), discovered that certain accessions of potatoes in the Commonwealth Potato Collection had no, or very few, cysts of the yellow potato cyst nematode (Heterodera rostochiensis) when grown in a nematode-infested soil. Some of these accessions  were cultivated potatoes which came from the Andes and produced tubers in short days (Andigena potatoes). These are easy to cross with European potato varieties (Tuberosum) and one clone in particular, CPC 1673, was used extensively at the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI). It was discovered that resistance is controlled by a single dominant gene (H1). Over the next few years, Dr Harold Howard and his team developed a number of families bred from crosses between Andigena and Tuberosum and selected them for yield. These were then backcrossed to Tuberosum and tested for nematode resistance. In 1956 the family from which Maris Piper was selected was raised from true seed but it took another 10 years before this elite clone (originally known as X8/5) was Recommended by the NIAB,  in 1966. See how Maris Piper got its name.

Pedigree of Maris Piper coloured

Pedigree of Maris Piper

Growing Maris Piper reduces the nematode population sufficiently to enable a crop of a susceptible variety, such as King Edward, to be grown on the same land in a subsequent year. Maris Piper is also tolerant of nematode attack, so that a reasonable yield can be obtained in infested soil.

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Aerial view (above) showing the benefit of  growing Maris Piper in fields infested with yellow potato cyst nematode. In the  year before this photograph was taken, Maris Piper was grown on the left hand side of the trial and King Edward in the centre. In the current year, the whole trial was cropped with King Edward (source: The Plant Breeding Institute 75 years, 1912-1987)

It is now known that there are two species of potato cyst nematode and a number of pathotypes.  Many of the populations of potato cyst nematode now prevalent in UK soils are not controlled by the gene H1  but Maris Piper continues to find favour because of its excellent eating and processing characteristics. Harold Howard told me that he was very surprised to discover the variety’s excellent processing characteristics – especially its chipping quality. The market for frozen chips (French fries) was only just  developing when the variety was released.

PBI  was awarded the Queen’s Award to Industry in 1982 for Maris Piper.

It was the most widely grown variety in 2015, a position it has now held for very many years.

M Piper table

Planted area (hectares) for top 20 varieties, 2005-15 (source: AHDB)

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