We held our Annual Technical Potato Update last month and had a great turn out of just under 70 growers/suppliers/packers/customers in the audience. We had a fantastic selection of speakers who all received great praise from the audience. Below is a summary of what was discussed.

  • The first speaker of the day was Professor Gerry Saddler who is Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland and Head of SASA. His talk titled- ‘Brexit: Possible implications for the seed potato trade’. Gerry gave a brief overview as how things stand just now in terms of plant breeder rights, marketing (EU Common Catalogue) and plant health. Gerry then spoke about Plant breeders rights after BREXIT if there was a no deal scenario. He said existing EU plant breeders rights will be recognised by the EU27 and the UK. For new varieties a dual application process will be required. In terms of marketing in the same scenario, varieties must be on the UK National List and  418 varieties have been added to UK national list from the EU Common Catalogue. Defra are seeking an equivalence agreement with the EU but this will not be considered until withdrawal negotiations have concluded. He stated negotiations may take at least 12 months. Dual application will be required to register varieties on the EU common catalogue and UK national list. For exports in the same no deal scenario Gerry indicated Scotland currently exports 13.5% of its marketed tonnage in seed potatoes to the EU. EU legislation prohibits the importation of seed from 3rd countries (excl. Switzerland). England, Wales and NI will allow EU seed imports for a one year period (effectively covering two growing seasons (2019 & 2020) however, Scotland will not follow suit (as it has a long-established industry-led voluntary ban, which means that little if any non-Scottish seed is grown). He stated that an equivalence agreement with the EU will not be considered until withdrawal negotiations have concluded. An interesting point he made was that all wood packaging materials (WPM; pallets, boxes, etc.) moving between the UK and the EU must meet ISPM15 international standards by undergoing heat treatment and carry the appropriate marking in a no deal scenario which is something many growers may not be aware of. Gerry then clarified the Scottish Governments position on seed potatoes and BREXIT: He stated the Scottish Government will seek to maintain membership of the custom union and common market or an outcome as close to that as possible; Seek to maintain tariff- and regulatory- free trade with the EU; Seek to maintain freedom of movement in terms of access to labour. However, Gerry stressed that the Scottish Government is concerned that in the event of a no-deal there could be possible loss of exports to the EU which would have a knock-on effect on the home market as well as a possible loss of access to Freight Transport Association agreements between EU and third countries and possible increase in imports due to future FTAs. To conclude his presentation, Gerry stated that the importance of our Scottish seed potato production must be recognised to Scotland’s rural economy as well as maintaining and building upon our first class reputation as a seed producer. Scottish Government will negotiate the best possible deal to ensure the long-term health of the seed industry. Useful information on BREXIT and seed potatoes can be found at https://www.mygov.scot/eu-exit/ http://www.sasa.gov.uk/eu-exit-guidance   https://www.gov.uk/government/brexit

  • Our second speaker was Professor Lorna Dawson – Head of Forensic Soil Science, James Hutton Institute Programme and SEFARI advisor. Lorna’s first topic was soil data and digital soil mapping. This applied to quantify distributions of ecosystem health indicators. She stated that this data is publicly available via Scotland’s Environment and the UK Soil Observatory web portals and the information is used to support Scottish Government policy interaction with EU on CAP Greening regulation. Lorna spoke about how JHI have developed risk maps for sustainable soil management. These maps show inherent risk to soils and the environment whilst targeted land management practices can mitigate impacts. Lorna mentioned various other tools and apps available to growers such as Soil Information For Scottish Soils (SIFSS). This app allows you to compare your soil to national averages calculated from the Scottish Soils Database, Find out what soil type in is in your area and Explore the characteristics of around 600 different Scottish soils. Another useful app mentioned was ‘Buntata’ – Plant disease diagnostics on the go. This app uses a visual key to compare various plant and tuber diseases, and can be used on mobile and computer. Discussing plant breeding (With JHI being a key potato breeder in the industry who bred Gemson and are currently breeding our GPS potato breeding projects) Lorna mentioned the traditional traits looked for in new varieties were pest and disease resistant as well as yield and quality traits. She mentioned that new traits we should be breeding for are cultivars with tolerance to drought, new pest and disease threats and earlier tuberising. JHI have taken new approached through- Genomic tools, genetic analysis, genetic modification, gene editing (CRISPR), hybrid/diploid breeding and genomic selection. JHI launched a new blight risk model called the Hutton Criteria which replaces the Smith Period. This creates a map of risk and alerts growers of high infection outbreaks making it more accurate to location. Since 2017 they have has 17,000 subscribers to the model! Lorna then mentioned about her other work she does for the criminal and forensic side. Lorna assists in many criminal cases where soil has been used as evidence to help assist the fate of a case. She also presents evidence in court and has assisted many crime dramas such as Silent Witness as well as some well-known crime fiction novels. Useful links include http://sifss.hutton.ac.uk/  http://www.hutton.ac.uk/news/new-soil-carbon-app-scottish-farmers      https://ics.hutton.ac.uk/get-buntata     https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37561722 
  • Our third speaker was Douglas Elder who is product manager at Intelligent Growth Solutions. IGS have innovated from the grower’s perspective by combining electrical, electronic and mechanical technologies that deliver Total Controlled Environment Agriculture to radically reduce energy and labour costs while delivering productivity benefits: yield, quality and consistency. He highlighted the current challenges facing horticulture today which were light and heat (Inability to control light and heat in a low cost manner and adding light, shading, heat and cooling is complex, inefficient and expensive), Production quality (Taste and flavour vary throughout the year, Heavy use of pesticides and The need for light removes the ability to increase crop densities), natural resource (Faming uses a huge land footprint, Water intensive and generates harmful effluents , Light pollution and heat loss, where artificial lighting and heat is used and Food miles can be significant and Cost (Glasshouses remain complex and expensive, Artificial lighting is inefficient, High labour costs (approaching 40% of sales) and Labour scarcity issues. IGS have come up with a vertical farming system – see link for more detailed info https://www.intelligentgrowthsolutions.com/demonstrator/. The system includes growth tower platforms which allows Power & Comms platform enables real-time control of all tower variables via seamless cloud integration. Its features are made up of Dynamic multi-spectral lighting ,Full closed-loop watering control, Full closed-loop air sterilisation and conditioning control, Humidity harvested, UV filtered and re-used, CO2 continuously balanced, Manual or AI-driven recipe creation, Plants monitored for reaction to recipe changes, Data capture direct to SaaS platform, Exception detection and automatic re-set. When speaking about the future, Douglas said they want to expand crop portfolio and they have potato trials commencing this week following SASA review. Other ambitions include: Greater collaboration with James Hutton Institute, Advanced Plant Growth Centre, Demonstrate virtual power plant power management, Plants communicating to control the growing environment, Enquiries coming from all over the globe – daily interest, Systems available for shipping 2019 and US, Middle Eastern and Asian presence by 2019.
  • And last but by no means least we had Dr Stuart Wale from SAC who I’m sure needs no introduction. His presentation last week focused on Storage & refrigeration, Velum Prime – a new nematicide for seed growers, Maxim & common scab, Fluazinam resistant blight and Black dot control. Firstly storage, Stuart overviewed climate change and that this warmer autumns and spring temperatures will challenge long term storage. Stuart stressed that refrigeration was crucial if storing for more than 3 months and growers should be looking at storage as an investment that will return dividends. He stated for those that had a fridge, switch it on as early as possible and not to rely on outside air during October/November. Velum prime, is a new nematicide from Bayer which is to help reduce multiplication on PCN in field especially where 1 or 2 blocks have failed and the rest of field has passed. It has low dosage and can be easily applied in furrow whilst being physically compatible with amistar. In terms of Maxim and common scab, it was noted from growers that Maxim worked fairly well on tubers this year and most noticed a difference in treated and untreated. For black dot, its not a major issue in seed however for late maturing seed and salad crops there can be a risk. Amistar is applied in furrow usually and that has been a critical component of control. Recent SAC trial work suggested foliar amistar sprays can reduce black dot but there needs more evidence. A new strain of late blight has also been confirmed in Scotland which is resistant to Fluazinam. 37_A2 turned up in SAC blight trials even though a fluazinam co-formulation (with a very robust anti-resistance partner) was only applied at very low levels.