Dublin to Host 2022 World Potato Congress

May 25, 2022 in News



Dublin to Host 2022 World Potato Congress

Medius Ag Proud to Participate as First-Time Exhibitor

Next week is the 11th gathering of the World Potato Congress (WPC). The WPC has been meeting about every three years since its founding in 1993. This will be the first time the WPC is hosted by Ireland when delegates gather in Dublin May 30 – June 2. Historically, the event draws nearly 1000 attendees from all over the world, including growers, processors, government leaders, and researchers, among others. This year, Medius Ag is excited to participate as a first-time exhibitor in the WPC trade show. 

Courtesy of USDA Agricultural Research Service. Photo by Scott Bauer.

While we have probably all learned about Irish history to varying degrees, most likely all of us know about or at least have heard of the Irish Potato Famine, or the Great Famine. For anyone who needs a refresher, a reliance upon potatoes by the Irish population during the mid-1800s turned deadly when a severe infestation of Phytophthora infestans–a fungus-like pathogen that causes late blight–drastically reduced potato yields throughout Ireland for several consecutive growing seasons. It is estimated that one million people died from starvation and another one million people emigrated from Ireland as a direct result of the famine triggered by the failed potato crops. A terrific scientific summary of the disease is available here, courtesy of the American Phytopathological Society. 

An Image of the Memorial to the Victims of the 'Great Famine' of Ireland in Dublin

The negative impacts of the potato famine in Ireland can still be felt today. Prior to the famine, the nation had a population of more than eight million people. However, not until about a year ago did Ireland’s population recover enough to exceed even five million. Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S.–Daniel Mulhall–penned a fascinating summary of the extraordinary fluctuations of the Irish population in the 1800 and 1900s that does an excellent job of explaining how the potato famine contributed to Ireland’s historic population decline. No matter how you measure it–culturally, politically, economically–the Irish Potato Famine has left an indelible imprint on present-day Ireland.

6 million people left between 1841 and 1900. This figure exceeded the total population of Ireland at the beginning of the 19th century. By 1901, Ireland's population had been cut in half, to just 4.4 million. Indeed, the population of the island, although it has been on the rise since the early 1960s, is still short of 7 million. This makes Ireland one of the few countries in the world to suffer population decline over the past 170 years when the world’s population has increased more than six fold. 

P. infestans and the associated potato late blight disease has been a thorn in the side of the global potato industry ever since it reared its ugly head in the mid-1800s. Here in the United States, a simple search of the word “infestans” in the Current Research Information Service (CRIS) database housed by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) reveals 265 research projects totaling more than $192 million since 2004 alone! Worth noting is that P. infestans can cause significant damage to tomato plants as well, which makes sense because they are both in the Solanaceae family. Even so, that $192 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the USDA-estimated $6.7 billion in annual global losses directly related to disease management costs and production losses associated with P. infestans

Search “late blight resistant potato” in your favorite browser and you’ll get no shortage of material to read. Scientists have been searching for effective defenses against potato blight for decades because different strains of the disease keep emerging. Private companies around the world have been working on the development of new resistant varieties using both conventional breeding practices and bioengineering. Meanwhile, the incorporation of germplasm from wild potato sources that are naturally resistant to late blight into domesticated varieties has been one of the principal strategies by public potato breeding efforts around the globe. The incorporation of wild potato germplasm just last year resulted in the release of a new blight-resistant variety called CIP-Matilde after an 11-year effort led by the International Potato Center in Peru.

Courtesy of Agrico
Courtesy of Simplot Plant Sciences

Certainly the battle against potato late blight is not over and is likely to continue for years to come, but the future sure does look bright! The fight goes on but the return to the site of one of the great global tragedies in modern history is an appropriate acknowledgement to the millions of people whose lives were upended or even lost altogether. We are proud to join in this effort and hope to see you at the 2022 World Potato Congress in Dublin, Ireland!

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