Late blight, a recurrent threat to the Irish and EU potato industry, causes approximately €1 billion in losses each year across the EU alone. To date, farmers have been reliant on chemicals, with nearly 12 sprays each season needed to preserve yield and quality. This expense, coupled with the disease’s potential to cause up to 30% crop loss in the absence of control measures, emphasizes the need for a sustainable solution.
Evolving Challenges and Regulatory Shifts
Adding to the challenge is the dynamic nature of late blight, which has shown a capacity to rapidly evolve and overcome deterrents. Coupled with recent EU chemical regulations and decreasing effectiveness of standard fungicides, these factors necessitate the search for more sustainable control methods for late blight.
ESoLaB’s Genetic Research and Early Warning System
The ESoLaB project, based at Teagasc Oak Park in Ireland and funded by Horizon 2020, is tackling these issues head-on. By studying the factors influencing changes in late blight populations and their interaction with the environment, the project seeks to develop innovative disease control strategies. Central to this is the identification of the genes that enable late blight to adapt, which could then be used as a ‘DNA fingerprint’ to assess larger late blight populations for their propensity to change.
Towards Sustainable and Effective Late Blight Control
The ESoLaB project’s research could result in the development of an ‘early warning’ system to alert growers of threatening disease strains. This would, in turn, support the identification of more resilient potato varieties and the study of historical samples to track the evolution of late blight populations. With these insights, more sustainable and effective strategies can be devised, potentially leading to the creation of novel, late blight resistant potato varieties capable of prolonged effectiveness.