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PiP seminars explore industry challenges

10 September 2011

New priorities for aphid control, consumer attitudes and the latest on industry efforts to measure potato’s carbon footprint were the focus of seminars at last month’s Potatoes in Practice (PiP) near Dundee.  Sponsored by AHDB Potatoes and hosted by SCRI, Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and CSC Potatocare, record numbers came to see the latest potato-related research.

The potato is a carbon culprit, compared with combinable crops.  But there are good opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint, according to Aberdeen University’s Jonathan Hillier, who addressed the seminars at Potatoes in Practice (PiP).


PiP seminars explore industry challenges

2 September 2011

New priorities for aphid control, consumer attitudes and the latest on industry efforts to measure potato’s carbon footprint were the focus of seminars at last month’s Potatoes in Practice (PiP) near Dundee.  Sponsored by AHDB Potatoes and hosted by SCRI, Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and CSC Potatocare, record numbers came to see the latest potato-related research.

The potato is a carbon culprit, compared with combinable crops.  But there are good opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint, according to Aberdeen University’s Jonathan Hillier, who addressed the seminars at Potatoes in Practice (PiP).

“Potatoes have a 20-30% higher carbon footprint than oilseed rape and wheat on a per hectare basis,” he stated.

Two-thirds of the crop’s total footprint could be attributed to nitrogen applications and emissions.  Its higher crop management requirement, from cultivation through inputs to harvesting, accounted for the potato’s relatively large greenhouse gas contribution, although the crop fares much better than others if assessed on a tonnage basis.

Mitigation will be a challenge for growers, recognises Dr Hillier, because no more nitrogen is usually applied to a crop than is necessary for optimum yield.

“Minimum tillage, where it is possible with potatoes, could lock in up to 100kg of carbon equivalent per ha.  But switching to organic won’t help – manure applications can contribute as much to the total footprint as N applied to conventional crops,” he added.

Transport holds the most potential.  “A 500km journey adds 50% to a potato’s overall production footprint.  So locally-marketed potatoes are clearly a winner.”

And the consumer is proving to be increasingly receptive to well-timed and co-ordinated marketing messages, according to AHDB Potatoes marketing director Kathryn Race.

Campaigns such as this summer’s Love Potatoes campaign, Grow Your Own Potatoes and National Chip Week are translating into healthy peaks in sales, she reported.

“TNS data shows a peak in chip sales during National Chip Week, for example, and it’s an important market worth £1.2 billion for fish and chip shops who say the campaign boosts an otherwise flat period in the year.”

There are signs that the modest marketing budget of the AHDB Potatoes is having a considerable effect, she added.  “Fresh consumption is on the increase and consumer awareness of health benefits of potatoes is up.

“Brands such as McCain leverage the spend with complementary health messages, so that it achieves positive potato coverage worth approximately £8 million a year.  It’s important we understand the priorities of the consumer so industry can be best equipped to tackle the challenges and issues in the future.”

Cereal aphids passing through your crop could be doing more damage than you might think, according to researchers presenting the latest on efforts to vanquish the virus vectors.

Work carried out by SCRI, SASA and Scottish Agronomy has been investigating how lesser-known aphids contribute to the spread of Potato Virus Y (PVY) and PVA.

“Not enough is known about the vectors of these viruses,” said SASA’s Jon Pickup.  But research is now revealing a good correlation between levels of rose and grain aphids in one year and expression of PVY in the next crop.

“We suspect that these cereal aphids are doing the damage – they are transitory, passing quickly through a crop, so it’s difficult to establish for definite whether they are.

“But it has implications for control and management of aphid populations – growers who have problems with PVA and PVY may need to review their strategy,” concluded Dr Pickup.

For more information on ways to address the carbon footprint of your business, and in particular energy usage in store, click on to AHDB Potatoes new energy hub www.potato.org.uk/energy.

Click here to find out more about AHDB Potatoes marketing campaigns.  AHDB Potatoes aphid-monitoring service, run by Central Science Laboratory, can be accessed at www.potato.org.uk/aphids.

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