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Potato yields need to improve, says AHDB chief scientist

27 July 2011

Potato yields need to make a stepped increase to cope with global demand, declared Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) chief scientist Prof. Ian Crute at the AHDB Potatoes West Midlands Potato Day.

Closing the yield gap by translating science into practice is the only way forward, he said at the event, held at Weston-under-Lizard in Staffordshire.

Potatoes are a challenging but globally important crop, he observed, pointing out the recent interest China has taken in them as they are more productive than rice. However, producers must monitor the sustainability of their businesses, making trade-offs between issues such as biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions, if necessary.

“There is still a yield increase to be gained from production methods,” he declared. “Genetically modified (GM) potatoes are making a huge difference globally, but it is not only GM that can make a difference. In the potato we must ensure we find the most efficient way to convert solar energy into food.”

He emphasised the need to improve yields so that more land will not need to be taken into production.

“Growers can hone their skills through knowledge exchange, and this will help them gain maximum benefits from minimum inputs,” he said. “We need to expand the knowledge base and exploit the current potential for improving yield by harnessing new technologies, making use of precision engineering and improving health diagnostics.

“There is clear space for improvement.”

However, growers were reassured to hear that as far as sustainability is concerned, the GB home production systems are as good as, or better, than those of most equivalent imported products  such as cereals, beef or potatoes. 

AHDB Potatoes director Dr Rob Clayton urged growers to be ‘in tune’ with where their customers are going so they can adapt and respond accordingly. He showed examples of the interest the top five supermarkets and processors such as McCain Foods and PepsiCo are already showing in carbon footprints.

“AHDB Potatoes has a longstanding commitment to sustainability,” he affirmed. “At AHDB we are fully engaged in a greenhouse gas action plan. Furthermore, we have established a strategy that will put sustainability alongside consumer nutrition in our work with policy makers and key influencers.”

The practical afternoon workshops examined continuing work to help growers save money on cultivation inputs by maximising efficiency.

Work is currently being undertaken on the use of biofumigants on soil infested with potato cyst nematodes (PCN). This costly potato pest causes potato industry losses of up to £26 million per year. Growers showed their increasing concern and uncertainty over the use of compounds such as granular and fumigant nematacides, engaging with agronomists Andrew Wade and Luke Hardy from Agrovista on their work using caliente mustard.

ADAS scientist Martyn Silgram discussed soil management techniques that will reduce phosphate losses, thereby saving cultivation costs. Irrigation scheduling and irrigation scheduling tools were discussed by independent agronomist Denis Buckley and water management consultant Peter White.

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