Professor Lesley Torrance

Professor Lesley Torrance

Scientists at the James Hutton Institute have outlined plans for a Potato Innovation and Translation Hub as a centre of excellence to translate innovation and research into solutions for the potato industry.

Unveiled at Potatoes in Practice 2021, it was explained that the hub is seen as a collaborative partnership of researchers, knowledge brokers and commercial companies, acting as a hub for research and translation of innovation to accelerate the adoption of new research products across the potato value chain.

Professor Lesley Torrance, executive director of science at the institute, said plans had been considered for some time because of the importance of the crop in Scotland and globally, as the world’s third most important staple food crop.

She explained: “We established in 2019 with partners SRUC and SASA, and recently we have come together with ADAS to establish Crop Storage Solutions to respond to the closure of AHDB Potatoes and the need for continuity and ensuring the future of GB potato storage research. It now seems a natural progression to go further and explore the potential to establish a potato innovation and translation hub given the wider industry needs. By working together, we can harness the new technologies, ideas and opportunities to create and deliver solutions.”

The new hub will be based in Scotland but would have relevance and impact across all nations of the UK and beyond, Torrance said, providing multiple benefits for the potato industry. It is hoped that the hub will act as the focal point to listen to and understand industry needs, propose, co-construct and deliver solutions and support growers and other stakeholders in the supply chain. It will also train the next generation in skills needed for the future.

“We urgently need to grow varieties adapted to the changing climate and with reduced inputs for sustainable and resilient production systems. To do this, recent advances in breeding technologies can be harnessed to fast track the breeding of new varieties; new developments in modelling, sensors and drone technologies are driving integrated pest management solutions,” Torrance added.

The Hub will have the backing of the James Hutton Institute, working across fundamental to translational research. The institute has over 100 potato scientists, many internationally recognised leaders in their fields and a track record of major discoveries and innovations in potato science.

The next steps for the Potato Innovation and Translation Hub include consultations with industry, developing a prospectus with an industry demand statement, commissioning an economic and financial analysis, consulting research partners and funders, and outlining a business case for investment in new facilities, people and research programmes.