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Potato cyst nematodes threaten Scottish seed potato industry’s future

The UK potato farming sector underpins an industry of approximately £4.5 billion. 77% of seed potatoes used in Great Britain originate from Scottish farms. However, this industry is under threat from potato cyst nematodes (PCN) which have been spreading across UK potato growing areas for decades,” says Dr. James Price at The James Hutton Institute.

He is currently project managing the Scottish PCN Working Group, PCN Action Scotland. PCN action Scotland has since helped initiate the new GB PCN forum. Dr Price summarises the PCN Action Scotland work in the November issue of the GB PCN Forum Newsletter.

The newsletter is published on the website of the Cambridge University Potato Growers Association (CUPGRA).

Reduced yields

Dr. Price says in his article that PCN drastically reduce yields and, due to the complex relationship with their host, are difficult to control. Legislation in Scotland prevents seed potatoes from being grown on land where PCN have been detected, reducing potential spread of contaminated seed.

However, PCN are already present in almost 21,000 ha of Scottish soils. Recent predictions suggest that continued spread of PCN will cause the end of the Scottish seed potato industry by 2050, potentially only 5 rotations away.

Following a report in 2020, a Scottish PCN working group was initiated under the management of Scotland’s Plant Health Centre. This group, consisting of over fifty government, academic, and industry partners, has received Scottish Government funding to provide practical solutions against PCN.

A sustainable potato industry for Scotland

This project aims to deliver a sustainable potato industry for Scotland through management of PCN. The James Hutton Institute, SRUC, SoilEssentials, Scottish Agronomy, BIOSS, and SASA are all working together as part of PCN Action Scotland to deliver 9 packages of work:

1. Economics – Assessing the economic value of the potato sector and the current impact of PCN, providing economic analysis supporting different PCN control options.

2. Decision Support System (DSS) – Creating a digital platform to support decision making activities using analysed data from growers and other sources.

3. Resistance Marker Development and Mobilising New Resistances — Discovering and. producing genetic markers linked to specific PCN resistance genes. Introducing new resistances from wild potato species into pre-breeding programmes to ensure long-term PCN resistance.

4. Dihaploid Induction for Accelerated Crop Improvement – Developing new diploid breeding material that contains genes for resistance against PCN.

5. Mechanistic Understanding of Tolerance to PCN to Aid Breeding – Examining genetic mechanisms that control tolerance and related phenotypic traits.

6. Groundkeeper Control – Delivering new methods for detecting and controling volunteer potatoes within rotation.

7. Novel IPM Tools – Developing novel non-chemical PCN control options for use before potato cultivation and within rotations.

8 National Knowledge Exchange and Communications Programme – Engaging with and informing the potato industry supply chain to ensure the outcomes from all work packages have a positive impact on the Scottish potato sector.

9. Policy – Recognising the requirements for potential changes to PCN sampling, testing, and land management to protect the Scottish potato industry. PCN Acton Scotland has now existed for 3 years and is making significant progress towards its end goals, according to Dr. Price. The PCN hub webpage ( was created to house key information relating to the PCN Action Scotland project. This includes detailed factsheets for each of the work packages, current Scottish government rules regarding PCN-related policies, key outputs, publications from the working group, and links to events.

Source: GB PCN Forum Newsletter. Courtesy and credit CUPGRA
Photo: Dr. James Price
Dr. James Price

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