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Winter Forum focusses on industry challenges

8 February 2017

Brexit, blight and the future of the potato industry led the discussion at this year’s Winter Forum at Harper Adams University (26 January 2017).

The forum was an excellent opportunity to showcase AHDB Potatoes recent work, with trials from both Strategic Potato (SPot) Farms proving to be a particular highlight.

Susannah Bolton, Knowledge Exchange Director for AHDB and chairperson for the event, introduced the forum by saying: “This is a great opportunity for everybody to air their views and share knowledge.

“We’re looking to encourage discussion based on our experiences, we can’t necessarily provide answers on what’s right or wrong, what we are doing is reporting our research.”

Industry challenges after Brexit

Sarah Baker, Senior Analyst for AHDB Potatoes, opened the event with a presentation on the industry challenges following the referendum result on 24 June 2016.

As an industry worth £4.1bn there has been some concern around the effects of Brexit, and Sarah was on hand to offer advice and words of encouragement.

Sarah said: “While Brexit presents industry challenges as a whole, there are significant opportunities for growers going forwards.

“It’s now about understanding these opportunities and preparing correctly in order to capitalise in these uncertain times. And of course, the AHDB will be on hand to help you achieve this by providing up to the minute evidence and analysis throughout Brexit and beyond.”

Annabel Hamilton, Arable Manager at Patrick Dean Ltd and member of the AHDB Potatoes Next Generation programme, said: “As a young grower I’m concerned about how Brexit will affect the industry, not just now but over the next five to ten years too.

“Obviously there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, but I thought Sarah was very clear and offered optimism, which is something we all need at this moment in time.”   

The fight on Blight

Dr David Cooke of the James Hutton Institute provided a clear understanding of the effects of blight.

David outlined the robust new “The Hutton Criteria” which represents a step change in blight forecasting from the Smith periods used for the last 60 years.

Siobhan Darcy an AHDB funded PhD student working with David has conducted a rigourous analysis to ensure that the Hutton Criteria presents a robust forecasting tool for blight across the country.

Claire Hodge, AHDB Knowledge exchange executive outlined how these new criteria will be incorporated into the Blightwatch & Fight Against Blight tools, which is ready for growers to use this coming season.

Claire said: “Forecasting blight and responding to local conditions allows growers to manage this ever present disease

“This advance has only been possible with support from blight scouts over many years. We will need more blight scouts in the future and everyone who can should sign up to get involved.

“We are also looking forward to a new FAB (Fight Against Blight) website, which will be launched in time for the new season.”

Arising from research carried out at the James Hutton Institute and funded by AHDB Potatoes, the Hutton Criteria offers significant advances on the current forecasting model, the Smith Period, which was developed 60 years ago.

Although the Smith Period has been immensely valuable over that time, the need for an enhanced alerting system had been driven by changes in blight pathogen populations and climate.

SPot the difference with small changes

Showcasing developments from SPot Farm East and West respectively, Dr Phil Burgess, Head of Knowledge Exchange for AHDB Potatoes discussed research in irrigation, for common scab control, the return of chitting and the reduced costs in cultivations.

Dr Burgess, said: “There is no such thing a true average.  One thing we’ve learned from our SPot Farms and other research is that we never stop learning.

“So one bit of information here might work and give a improvement of just one or two per cent. But the important thing is to continuously stack up a few small improvements.”


Farmbench is AHDB’s free, whole-farm benchmarking programme. The new system brings together AHDB’s current sector-specific benchmarking programmes, helping farmers measure and manage their whole farm performance.

Giles Blatchford, AHDB Farmbench Project Manager, said: “From February 2017, AHDB regional officers will work with a small number of farmers to test the system by inputting live information from potatoes, cereals & oilseeds and beef & lamb enterprises.

“Farmbench will then be made available to existing benchmarking users to facilitate their switch over from AHDB’s existing benchmarking tools before being rolled out externally to a wider farmer led audience.”

Rob Evans, a potato grower from Staffordshire, said: “As a levy payer it’s good to see where our money goes.

“It’s been a very informative day all round, I think the talk on Brexit in particular was really useful. It’s important that people like myself know what’s going on in the industry and how this can impact business.

Jeremy Cartwright from DuPont (UK) Ltd, said: “The scientific knowledge in these sessions is excellent. I think, particularly in these areas, as a lot of trials show that you can’t control everything.

“It’s not going to perfect in an uncontrolled environment, like out in the field but we can be a lot closer after this research.”

Michael Bubb, of J M Bubb & Son, local producers for McCain said: “As a very confused farmer, the talk on Brexit was of particular interest. 

“The information was professionally presented and gave me a clear picture of where we are currently. There appears to be endless options within the confines of current world rules and tariffs. 

“On the whole, as I see it the benefit of all AHDB sectors working together is that your higher level of professionalism is shared over all agricultural products, which have to be considered as a whole rather than each sector in isolation.  Such accurate assessments will surely prove useful to our UK agricultural negotiators and lobbyists alike.”

Notes to editors

AHDB is a statutory levy board, funded by farmers, growers and others in the supply chain. Our purpose is to inspire our farmers, growers and industry to succeed in a rapidly changing world. We equip the industry with easy to use, practical know-how which they can apply straight away to make better decisions and improve their performance. Established in 2008 and classified as a Non-Departmental Public Body, it supports the following industries: meat and livestock (cattle, sheep and pigs) in England; horticulture, milk and potatoes in Great Britain; and cereals and oilseeds in the UK. AHDB’s remit covers 72 per cent of total UK agricultural output. Further information on AHDB can be found at


For further information contac

​Stuart Baxter AHDB Potateos Marcomms Executive, 08476 478926

For out of hours enquiries,call AHDB press office on 024 7647 8800 or email


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