This year’s Potatoes in Practice was the first major industry event since levy payers voted against supporting AHDB Potatoes.
AHDB has until now, been a major partner in the annual event along with the James Hutton Institute which provides the site at its Balruddery Farm near Dundee. This year despite growers facing the possibility of still paying an amended levy, there was absolutely no AHDB Potatoes presence. There was however evidence of new collaborations capable of carrying forward potato research.
James Hutton Institute is to the fore with its plans for a Potato Innovation and Translation Hub. However, this is not planned as a bricks-and mortar project like the soon-to be-constructed International Barley Hub. Instead it will be a virtual hub based at JHI’s Mylnefield campus near Dundee. Prof Lesley Torrance, executive director of science at JHI said: “We see this hub acting as a Scottish-based focal point for collaborative research partnerships. It will also be a place for developing next generation skills.” Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is seen as natural collaborator in the venture with the link already formed with the appointment last year of Dr Phil Burgess to lead scottishpotatoes.org, a coordinating body involving JHI, SRUC and the government plant health regulator, Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).
Dr Burgess said: “JHI and SRUC are well placed to conduct research but knowledge exchange has to be the essential end point. It will all need a collaborative approach funded by some form of grower-led organisation.” Prof Torrance identified the Fight Against Blight programme and aphid monitoring as AHDB funded projects which should not be abandoned. JHI previously received around £250,000 annually from AHDB’s levy income of £6m. The blight programme would cost £85,000 per year to continue and aphid monitoring a further £55,000. Leading grower and exporter Archie Gibson, executive director at Agrico believes that there is an appetite amongst growers to fund research if the right vehicle can be found. “A recent NFU Scotland survey showed that 67 percent of respondents thought there should be some sort of contribution from growers. Along with others, I have been here liaising with the Better Levy Group and some interesting ideas are emerging. I know the very word ‘levy’ is toxic to some, but there must be a voluntary subscription model that would work.
“AHDB Potatoes demise does offer an opportunity for a more grower-focused approach but binary nature of the poll has left the industry in a quandary. The challenge is now to gain the confidence of all growers,” Mr Gibson said.