Working group set up by GB Potatoes and CUPGRA aims to coordinate an industry-wide approach to tackling devastating pest Potato Cyst Nematode

A new forum has been established to tackle the costly and devastating pest Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN).

Recently formed industry body GB Potatoes is working in partnership with the Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association (CUPGRA) to establish the group, which will bring together people from across the potato sector with an interest in, or knowledge of PCN.

The goal is to coordinate a practical and integrated industry plan, and the forum’s interest will include research past and present, future threats to chemical control, breeding of resistant/tolerant varieties, and information on trap cropping and bio-fumigation, among other areas.

An initial workshop was held on 21 March 2023 at CUPGRA, attended by representatives from all sectors of the industry. It was agreed that there was a need for a GB PCN Forum and its first meeting took place on 17 August.

Mark Taylor, chair of GB Potatoes, commented: “PCN is one of the major issues facing the potato sector, and without a co-ordinated approach to the pestthe industry is under a grave threat of walking into a situation from which it will be difficult to reverse.

“This is why it is so important that the industry comes together to tackle the problem in a joined up and focused way. As the voice of the UK potato industry, GB Potatoes is ideally placed to facilitate this forum in partnership with CUPGRA.

“It is vitally important that we produce defined goals, realistic timelines and create practical solutions that support the industry. It is not a talking shop, and we will expect to be measured on our outputs.”

The GB PCN Forum said it will be “an open and inclusive group drawing on technical expertise from wherever it is available as well as utilising the practical skills of growers to produce a strategy that is workable in the field”.

A steering group has been the initiator to get the forum underway, but beyond that all interested parties will be encouraged to contribute.

The group added: “It is essential that everyone in the industry buys in to the outcomes of the forum not only those directly involved but those on the periphery such as land agents, landowners, consultants, retailers, and the supply chain. Disseminating outputs and information will be key to the success of the forum.”

A staggering 48 per cent of ware land in England and Wales, and 35 per cent in Scotland, is infected with PCN. The estimated cost to the GB potato industry is around £31m, according to research by Harper Adamas University.

PCN can reduce yields by up to 80 per cent – a significant loss in a crop that is expensive to grow and requires a high number of inputs.

Seed potatoes must be grown in soil that has been tested and found to have no PCN cysts present.

The area infested with PCN is doubling every seven years in Scotland, meaning there is a less land available for producing seed potatoes.

There are fewer resistant varieties available to control PCN than Yellow PCN and the forum stressed it is “very important that the whole of Great Britain works together to tackle this growing problem”.