Scottish Farmers and growers are joining forces to tackle a threat which, some fear, could wipe out their potato industry by 2025. Experts have warned about the potential impact of the spread of potato cyst nematode (PCN).
The amount of land affected in Scotland has been doubling every six or seven years, and researchers fear the pest will cost the industry millions. It can take 30 years before potatoes can be grown again on infected land.
Jon Pickup of research group Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (Sasa) said there had been an "exponential increase" in cases of the pest in Angus, the area worst affected by the pallida species of PCN. He said: "At the moment we're finding PCN in about 500 hectares per annum, but the exponential spread means that by 2025 this could be at 1,400 to 1,500 hectares. With six-year rotations, the management decisions we make now will only change things from 2026 onwards."
He added that it was estimated that £5m to £6m of seed potatoes a year could be lost by 2025. The first meeting took place last week of the Soil Association Scotland-led Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS). Its aim was to allow industry experts to discuss latest research on PCN and potential control methods.
One of the long-term solutions discussed at the meeting was the need to grow varieties of potato which are resistant to PCN. However, only two of the top 15 Scottish varieties of seed potatoes which are currently grown are resistant to pallida.