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EU potato sector confronts late blight threat: Copa-Cogeca unveils comprehensive action plan

Europe’s leading farming organisations Copa and Cogeca are sounding the alarm: faced with the re-emergence of late blight, European potato production is at risk. Copa and Cogeca are the united voice of farmers and agri-cooperatives in the EU. Copa represents over 22 million farmers and their family members whilst Cogeca represents the interests of 22,000 agri-cooperatives.

Copa-Cogeca proposed a late blight action plan and presented it last week in Brussels. The plan is supported by several farming organizations including Europatat, NEPG, EUPPA, Euroseeds and others.

Copa-Cogeca says potato late blight is the most destructive disease of potatoes and responsible for the Irish Famine in the 19th century, causing annual economic damage in the EU of an estimated 900 million EUR.

They went on to say that potato late blight is already a significant threat to the 2024 growing season across several regions of the EU, even before potato planting is completed.

The pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, infects both the foliage and tubers of potato plants and can devastate the entire crop within just one or two weeks. This pathogen is highly adaptive, and recent developments show that it is evolving more complex virulence spectra, enabling it to overcome an increasing number of resistance genes. Furthermore, there is an alarming development of combined resistance to single-site fungicide active ingredients.

These troubling developments are drastically reducing the effectiveness of current control tools, potentially undermining future Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies. This poses a severe threat to European potato production, the potato supply chain, and the positive EU trade balance.

Against this background, the EU potato sector proposes both short-term and long-term solutions. In the short term, the action plan, proposes among others, the creation of a stakeholder dialogue platform and the reinforcement of communications IPM strategies. In the mid-term, signatories propose developing a coordinated approach from the crop protection sector, breeders, researchers, and European farmers.

The most effective way to control the spread of late blight remaining is the combined use of effective plant protection products and resistant potato varieties with combinations of different resistance genes, as well as promoting best agricultural management practices.

The EU action plan also focuses on the need to increase the awareness of EU institutions about the gravity of the situation and the need for swift actions in the coming months.

Aims of the Action Plan

The Action Plan will aim to:

  • raise awareness of the need to tackle this problem among national and European public authorities and stakeholders in the potato value chain.
  • develop concrete measures in close collaboration with the European Commission, Member States, and stakeholders.
  • recognise the need for safe, effective, and sufficient tools to control late blight where the combination of improved resistant varieties and well monitored crop protection is the forward-looking integrated strategy, alongside robust anti-resistance strategies for fungicides to combat aggressive Phytophthora strains so that farmers can work towards ensuring food security and feed the world’s growing population.
  • prioritise the provision of coherent and systemic information. Providing information and advice available to EU farmers must be a priority to secure the implementation of effective control strategies based on the adoption of the latest R&D findings on the population dynamics of Phytophthora infestans. Resistant varieties with improved resistance as well as preventive and effective resistance management strategies of fungicides should be used.

The full plan can be downloaded as a Word document from the Copa-Cogeca website (see press release of 30 May 2024).

Source: Copa-Cogeca
Dominique Dejonckheere, Senior Policy Advisor
Sarah Lahouegue, Communications Officer
+32 474 84 08 36
Cover image: Credit Dreamstime via Open Access Government

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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