Europe, UK, Ireland, Production/Agronomy, Smart Farming, Trends

Opinion: ‘The future for potatoes: Opportunities and threats’

“Growing potatoes can sometimes feel like it’s a constant battle. From seed import and export restrictions following the UK’s departure from the European Union to a shrinking armoury of crop protection products and pandemic-induced changes in consumer demand. The headwinds seem to keep getting stronger. Despite these challenges, potatoes can still be a financially rewarding crop and there are good reasons to be optimistic for its future.”

This, according to a recent article posted online by Bayer Crop Science in the UK in the Crop Advice & Expertise section of its website.

Bayer talked to Antonia Walker, the company’s campaign manager for potatoes, root crops and Dekalb oilseeds, about the upcoming innovations to support profitable potato growing in the UK.

Will growing potatoes still be an important crop of the future?

Yes, most definitely, Antonia said. The potato is the UK’s most popular vegetable by a considerable margin and while there may be some demographic challenges to overcome if it is to retain this position (it is most often consumed by those over 55 years, according to data from Kantar), it is eaten for enjoyment more than any other vegetable.

The UK is geared very well for potato production with a professional network of growers, seed producers and processors who can meet exacting market demands; so there is every reason to believe that the potato will remain a regular feature of the farming landscape.

There are of course challenges to consider. It would be remiss not to recognise the significance these will have on grower attitudes: the rising cost of labour, energy and inputs will all threaten investment and test commitment. A market correction will be needed at some point to restore margins and maintain grower confidence, while we will need new solutions to old problems to maintain the competitiveness of the crop for the long term.

There are other reasons to be optimistic. Our processors are amongst the most efficient and innovative of any in the developed world. This should be seen as a commitment to the sector and a sign of confidence in the future.

What about advances in crop protection?

The loss of active substances often seen as vital to crop protection are a constant source of frustration among growers and advisers. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to change.

At Bayer – as elsewhere – we are investing significant sums in bringing new products to market – in 2021, Bayer spent €5.3 billion on R&D – but there is more to product development than how much cash you spend. It now takes upwards of 13 years to bring a product to market following discovery, by which time the opportunity may have gone or at least be greatly reduced.

Soil-borne pests are a particular focus. Potato cyst nematode and free-living nematodes inflict significant production losses, as well as making the growing of potatoes more complicated. Soil diseases that cause skin blemishes are typically a focus of retailers because they spoil the appearance of tubers in-store and make them less attractive to consumers.

Late blight will continue to be problematic.  Constantly evolving strains put foliar fungicides under increasing pressure. Disease monitoring and the adherence to resistance management policies is fundamental to preserving the efficacy of the products we have today and those of the future.

Source: Bayer Crop Science. This is an excerpt. Go here to read the full article
Cover photo: Courtesy Bayer Crop Science

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