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New body aims to tackle multi-million pound potato problem

A new potato sector body which aims to tackle the impact of a costly crop pest - potato cyst nematode - has been welcomed.

The new PCN forum has been set up to tackle the parasitic worm, which causes major problems for farmers and growers.

The pest 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 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.

Reader in Nematology at Harper Adams University, Dr Matthew 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."

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

It will also draw upon the work of academics such as Dr Back, and combine this work with the practical skills of growers, developing approaches which will work in the field.

Dr Back – who attended the forum’s inaugural meeting and will be providing technical advice on the pest - added: “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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