Paul Watts of Belfast's Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has spent 30 years in potato breeding, using innovative scientific methods to boost disease resistance and tolerance to stress. The growing awareness of the health benefits of highly coloured fruit and vegetables prompted him to develop the purple-fleshed variety.
"In the early 2000s research began to show there might be significant health benefits from eating fruit and vegetables with high levels of anthocyanins," he said. "In 2003 we made crosses with coloured heritage varieties to boost the levels of antioxidants in new, high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties. These yielded a rainbow of colour in the 2,000-plus seedlings AFBI produced, with better yields and disease resistance than the parents."
Canadian potato licenser Solanum International then visited AFBI's Loughgall site, leading to one promising seedling being registered in North America as Purple Magic. "Yes, people there are buying it and they want more of it," said Watts. "We are now registering the variety in Europe and plan to have it on the market by 2018."
Entrants to the competition, which carries a £33,000 prize fund, will be assessed by independent expert judges, with the winners announced on 29 September.