New potato breed chips in to Duns charity

Alistair Redpath
Alistair Redpath

An ex-Duns Reiver is planning on giving something back to the town after leading the way in developing a new breed of potato.

Alistair Redpath, who was installed as Reiver in 1979, and still has family in Duns, is planning to donate some of the profgits from his designer crop to the Ex-Reivers Association.

He told the Berwickshire News about how he had been working for more than a decade on the crop, and what is in store in the near future.

“It’s been quite a delicate process, creating a new strain of vegetable,” he said.

He explained: “You have your tweezers and your make-up brush, in your greenhouse, dusting the female parts with pollen.

“These then form something that looks like a tomato, because they’re in the same family. And from that you get between 50-300 seeds.”

The process, as well as being “simple but complicated”, takes quite a while - it can be ten years before you’re testing crops in a farm setting.

Testing is well underway now, though, with an acre of the new crop planted at the Thomson’s farm at Mungoswalls, near Duns.

Alistair said that he has been lucky to be working with the cooperation of Mackie’s Crisps, who obviously have their own potato expertise.

Another partnership, with the James Hutton Institute, has also been crucial in getting the Reiver into the Commonwealth Collection of different potato strains.

And to get a complete picture of the new crop’s versatility, it is also being tested somewhere with a rather different climate to Scotland - across the Atlantic in Cuba, where 25 kilos of ‘plot material’ are being trialled.

All this means that come September, the Reiver should be at least a “semi-commercial” concern.

That is a testament to the utility of the potato, which is the staple of a billion peoples’ diets worldwide.

Globally, nearly a million tonnes are grown each year, and the Reiver is on its way to adding to that total.

Alistair says that his creation is a good “all round” potato, and works well whether it’s being baked, mashed or fried.

“It’s important as well that we’ve managed to breed in some greater resistance to disease for this strain,” he added.

“I left Duns a few years ago now, but I still have family there, and I still visit,” said Alistair, “so I thought that it would be a nice thing to just give a little bit back to the community.”