William Paterson, 1810-1870, Potato Breeder

William Paterson has an important place in the history of Scottish potato breeding.

The potato blight had destroyed the crops of 1845 and 1846 and had led to starvation and hardship in Ireland and elsewhere. Few believed that it would be useful as a food crop in the future.

Paterson, a farmer living at Seafield, Dundee, was a visionary who realised that, properly managed, the potato still had a future. He had been a fruit grower; then had done work for the Government inquiring into the causes of potato blight, and now he turned his attention to growing improved strains of potato.

He and other growers had noticed that crops grown repeatedly from tubers gradually lost their vigour and usefulness after a period of between 10 and 30 years. After this time the stock had often deteriorated to the point that it was no longer worth growing.

From 1853, in the wake of the devastation caused by blight a few years earlier, Paterson decided to raise fresh seedlings derived from new stock. He spent a lot of money in importing potatoes from South Africa, Australia, America and elsewhere. He selected the best tubers, and the best of his own, and grew them together, on a selected damp site. They produced flowers, and pollination occurred, and many of the plants produced 'potato apples'.

From these he produced seedlings, and from these he began his 'potato recovery programme'. In this way he raised many strains of potato including the variety 'Victoria' in about 1860. This is a landmark variety because it was used a great deal in later breeding programmes, and it became the leading variety of its day..

In addition to 'Victoria' he raised White Rock, Blue, Early Red Kidney, White Kidney, and The Queen, a forerunner of 'British Queen'.

Paterson left a book, "On Propagating New varieties of Potato", published in 1871. He never became rich from potato breeding, but his place in 'potato history' is assured.

ND / Diversity website

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