Eel­worm threat to key Scots seed potato crops

The Scotsman - - Weather / Farming - By AN­DREW ARBUCKLE an­drew@an­drewar­

On the sur­face all seems well in the Scot­tish potato in­dus­try with prices this year pro­vid­ing a good and oc­ca­sional ex­cel­lent fi­nan­cial re­turn to grow­ers but there is a prob­lem lurk­ing in the soil which might af­fect fu­ture prospects. The prob­lem comes from potato cyst ne­ma­todes (pcn) that can re­duce yields and re­move mar­kets for seed potato grow­ers as they re­quire to test their land be­fore plant­ing to en­sure it is free from pcn.

Ac­cord­ing to Jon Pickup from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment Science and Ad­vice for Scot­tish Agri­cul­ture (SASA) which car­ries out the test­ing, there are cur­rently some 20,000 acres of land in­fected with eel­worm and thus out of seed potato pro­duc­tion.

Yes­ter­day he had blunt words for potato pro­duc­ers at a meet­ing held in the James Hut­ton at In­ver­gowrie: “I think pcn will se­ri­ously com­pro­mise the area of land we can grow pota­toes on in the fu­ture un­less we change our ways.”

This eel­worm “epi­demic”, which is how Pickup de­scribed it, lies in all the main potato grow­ing ar­eas of the coun­try, with An­gus the heart­land of the Scot­tish potato crop also hav­ingthe high­est lev­els of pcn in­fes­ta­tion.

There are two main species of pcn – Glo­bodera ros­tochein­sis and Glo­bodera pal­l­ida – and the county of An­gus has the high­est in­ci­dence of the lat­ter.

Us­ing SASA records to track the de­vel­op­ment of the prob­lem Pickup said that since 1970, there had been a steady in­crease in ros­tochien­sis but the same pe­riod had seen a rapid in­crease in pal­l­ida in­fected land.

Part of the dis­par­ity in in­fes­ta­tion has been down to new va­ri­eties be­ing bred that have a re­sis­tance to ros­tochien­sis but not to pal­l­ida and, given a free rein, the lat­ter par­a­site has mul­ti­plied.

Adding weight to his con­cerns Pickup said that the sit­u­a­tion was only go­ing to get worse. He ex­pected the acreage of land in­fected with Pal­l­ida would dou­ble in the next seven years. “It is al­ready di­alled in” was how he saw the prob­lem as test­ing was al­ways in a catch up sit­u­a­tion.

And if that was not bad enough, he fore­saw an­other dou­bling of Pal­l­ida in­fes­ta­tion be­fore the end of the 2020s.

“Cur­rent con­trol meth­ods are not work­ing,” he stated.

How­ever, Colin Her­ron, gen­eral man­ager of Mccain Foods, was more san­guine about the fu­ture say­ing that, while there was a prob­lem with eel­worm and it was not go­ing to dis­ap­pear, he was con­fi­dent that new va­ri­eties com­ing for­ward would help to pro­vide the an­swer.

“One of the main fo­cus points we have as a com­pany go­ing for­ward is in in­tro­duc­ing eel­worm re­sis­tance and some of the va­ri­eties com­ing through the pro­gramme are quite promis­ing,” he said.

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