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    New industry body aimed at tackling multi-million pound potato problem welcomed

    Posted 1 September 2023

    A farmer checks a field of potato crops

    A new industry body aimed at tackling the impact of a costly potato crop pest has been welcomed by a Harper Adams academic.

    Reader in Nematology Dr Matthew Back is among the members of the new PCN forum, set up to tackle the potato cyst nematode – a parasitic ‘worm’ which causes major problems for potato growers and affects almost half of the land used for growing ware potatoes - those which are not grown from seed – across Great Britain.

    The new forum will see umbrella body GB Potatoes work all sectors of the industry, in partnership with CUPGRA, to draw together knowledge of the impact of the nematode and approaches to tackling it.

    Through drawing on both industry and academic knowledge, the forum aims to develop a co-ordinated strategy to the pest.

    Dr Back estimates that the impact the nematode on the industry could is around £31 million each year.

    He said: “Potato cyst nematodes are destructive and persistent pests of potato, occurring in around 48% of land used for growing ware potatoes.

    “Moreover, under the current rate of PCN spread, it has been estimated that we might be limited to just five more seed potato crops in Scotland.

    “Academia must work with industry to communicate research findings and establish guidelines for improving integrated pest management, while industry engagement is essential for ensuring best practice, shaping and implementing policy changes and establishing clear communication channels through the supply chain.”

    As the forum develops, it aims to draw in not only those directly involved, but also those on the periphery, such as Land Agents, landowners, consultants, retailers and the wider supply chain,

    It will also draw upon the work of academics such as Dr Back and the research team at Harper Adams – and combine this work with the practical skills of growers, developing approaches which will work in the field.  These approaches will then be shared with forum members across the country to help develop a national strategy to meet the challenge.

    Dr Back – who attended the Forum’s inaugural meeting as an online participant and will be providing technical advice on the pest - added: “The Nematology Group at Harper Adams University have been undertaking research on the distribution, biology and management of PCN for more than 30 years.

    “In recent years, our work has been looking at rotational practices such as trap cropping, organic soil amendments and biofumigation. As such, our experience will assist the PCN Forum in developing guidelines for crop management and identifying research gaps.”

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