2014-08-14  facebook twitter rss

Potatoes in Practice Delivers Broad Technical Programme

The sun shone on the many hundreds of industry visitors at the scenic farm site overlooking the Tay, all there to get their ‘tech-know’ from the expected high-standard mix of R&D and technical information presented by the Potato Council, the James Hutton Institute, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), Agrii and the many industry experts and exhibitors who come to this major event.

Despite pressure on growers to get combining out of the way before bad weather closed in, Potatoes in Practice (PiP), held on 7 August, saw high visitor numbers with over 650 industry attending.

Potatoes in Practice

Dr Rob Clayton, Director of Potato Council which sponsors the event, spoke alongside Prof. Iain Gordon, CEO of the James Hutton Institute. Rob told visitors that “We need the science and evidence base to go hand-in-hand with the marketing campaigns to promote potatoes to consumers. It’s the long term commitment to science programmes that has given us the positive back-story on nutrition, sustainability and cost of production. And now it’s time for levy payers to help us tell the story.” Rob urged industry to speak with ‘One Voice’, saying, “The marketplace is crowded with competitive products so our industry needs to be loud and proud, and join together to bang the drum with consistent messages about potatoes.”

Prof. Iain Gordon added “Potatoes in Practice is a great opportunity to learn about the latest R&D, and I would encourage you to visit all the plots, seminars and stands. I should also emphasise the importance of partnership working, because the R&D here today is brought to you as a result of the collaboration between the James Hutton Institute, Potato Council, SRUC, Scottish Government and also industry through levy investment. This working together is crucial to ensure the future sustainability of our industry.”

PiP provides a unique opportunity for farmers, advisers and agronomists to view industry and government-supported science at a single site in one day, and this year’s programme was even more packed with technical information.

SASA’s Dr Jon Pickup talked about the growing threat to seed production and to ware crop yields from Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN), an issue very high on the list of growers’ concerns. Jon highlighted the increase in land area recorded as infested with PCN in Scotland, following introduction of the EU PCN Directive and the consequent requirement for increased soil sampling. Jon emphasised the potential and significant threat from ‘PCN creep’ and a change in approach for seed and ware land is urgently needed. He concluded that improved approaches to PCN management are required to maintain sufficient PCN-free land for the production of seed potatoes, and whilst nematicides provide a valuable tool for managing yield in PCN infested ware land, resistant varieties provide the best option for managing PCN populations. In particular, for successful management of G. pallida, the highly resistant varieties now available must gain commercial acceptability.

Dr Brian Fenton from the James Hutton Institute examined whether the grain aphid – Sitobion avenae – is becoming a threat to seed potato crops. Brian was able to add some very recent information to his talk, originating from important resistance results from Scottish and English samples taken by colleagues at Rothamstead Research, which show that the resistant clone of the grain aphid has increased from 10% to 50% in Scottish samples and from 50% to 60% in English samples. Brian concluded that “The grain aphid is now recognised as a more efficient PVY vector than it was in the previous Fera calculations; it has developed pyrethroid resistance and migrates in large numbers from cereal crops over into potato crops. So to answer the question – yes, it is a threat! Growers can minimise virus infection by utilising clean stocks and good agronomy practices, and careful selection and use of agrochemicals. These are the most effective ways of controlling the spread of aphid-borne viruses in seed crops.”

With high slug numbers expected this autumn after the mild winter, the revocation of methiocarb in slug pellets and metaldehyde found increasingly in watercourses means that slug control in potato crops will become more challenging for growers. SRUC’s Dr Andy Evans’ talk on slug control showed how most slug damage occurs below ground with slugs rarely coming onto the soil surface where control tends to be targeted. Andy advised “Know your enemy! Growers need to identify the species of slug and monitor slug levels in the field. Also, timing of treatment applications is vital; the most effective treatments are applied just before the crop canopy meets and if this canopy opportunity is missed, poor control is achieved regardless of how many applications are made. Andy also demonstrated some potato varieties which are more – or less - susceptible to slug damage, and how biological controls such as Nemaslug can be effective for control, as an alternative to chemical treatments. Furthermore, if your crop is at risk from slug damage, lift as early as you can and remove slug-damaged tubers before storage.

Crop damage at harvest costs industry around £20m each year, so the new harvesting clinics were created for PiP by Potato Council’s Claire Hodge. Sited alongside the live machinery demonstrations, the clinics saw Greenvale, Tong Peal, Standen and Grimme advising on quality control issues that growers face at harvest and grading and loading into stores.

Doug Hendry, Procurement Manager at leading producers Greenvale AP told audiences “This year with the prospect of a good supply of high-quality crop available, you need to pay particular attention to damage minimisation and quality assessment to reduce the possibility of rejections. Tolerances will be tight and skin finish is a very high priority, so you need to ensure that your lifting, grading and loading machinery is checked and set correctly to capitalise on the good quality crop currently in field. Harvesting equipment has changed dramatically over recent years, especially after the response to 2012 when investment was put into equipment which could harvest in challenging conditions. This has led to a requirement for training harvester drivers to understand and control the speed settings and change in direction of crop through the machine in order to minimise crop damage. Potato Council’s ‘Damage Awareness’ booklet and videos give clear advice on what to look out for so your crop gets the best handling treatment at this crucial time.”

Visitors spent time walking around the many plots finding out more on the latest R&D and technology on cultivations, common scab, aphid monitoring, new and established varieties and on agronomy, with experts on hand to explain the outcomes of the many different trials and demos set up months before for PiP’s large technical audience.

Leading machinery manufacturers and suppliers brought the latest equipment to PiP for the second year of live demonstrations. Visitors were able to observe working machinery in operation, demonstrating tilling, bedforming, planting and harvesting which attracted large audiences, and complimented the adjacent harvesting clinics very well.

PiP has become GB’s largest technical potato field event and is presented each year as a result of the planning and cooperation between Potato Council, the James Hutton Institute, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Agrii, with the support of Potato Review magazine.

The date for next year’s PiP has already been set for Thursday 13th August and planning is already underway to ensure next year’s event delivers timely and relevant R&D to our industry. We look forward to delivering the 2015 PiP technical programme and to seeing hundreds of industry visitors return to PiP next year.

Potato Council

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