A late blight genotype that is resistant to a second fungicide mode of action continues to spread through Europe, meaning British potato growers will need to take extra care when planning control strategies next year. The Fight Against Blight (FAB) monitoring initiative, which looks for genetic changes in the late blight population and its sensitivity to key fungicides, delivered its latest results at the 2023 British Potato event (BP2023).
News November 2023
France is grappling with a severe farming crisis, as national inflation has dramatically increased potato prices, affecting various potato-based products. The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) reported a nearly 23% rise in potato prices within a year. The crisis has disrupted the French supply chain, leading to a 50% hike in prices for potato processors buying potatoes from growers. Contracts between growers and manufacturers have become 36% more expensive, with no immediate relief in sight.
In Maine, potato prices may soon rise due to escalating farming costs. Farmers face higher expenses for electricity, diesel, and labor, impacting their profit margins. Despite current stable prices in grocery stores, the increased production costs, affected by supply chain issues and inflation, could eventually lead to higher prices for consumers. Maine’s potato industry, worth $247 million, is grappling with economic challenges that may affect the market.
The British potato industry is facing a crisis due to COVID-19, the Ukraine conflict, inflation, and weather issues, leading to a significant drop in production. In response, potato suppliers like Wolds Produce are negotiating longer, more flexible contracts with manufacturers. Despite some support from crisp manufacturers, the sector struggles with reduced seed production and the lowest recorded crop yields, signaling potential price increases and industry consolidation ahead.
Canadian potato growers are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor and predict their crops’ nutritional needs in real time. The new technology involves using a portable optical sensor to quickly assess potato field nutrient values. The technology utilises machine learning algorithms trained on historical data, thereby providing near real-time evaluations of plant nutritional requirements. This method improves fertilizer application efficiency, optimising yield and quality while maintaining environmental balance.
A BBC Ideas video underlines the importance of soil, often overlooked despite its crucial role in life on Earth. The soil hosts an estimated 50,000 species of microscopic organisms per gram, forming a complex ecosystem of mutual benefit between creatures like earthworms, microorganisms, and plants. Soil growth is slow, taking over 100 years to form just half a centimeter. Despite being a valuable carbon store and a vital part of Earth’s nitrogen and carbon cycle, it is under threat due to intensive farming, chemical contamination, and urbanization.
Eight new projects across nine countries: PepsiCo expands its Positive Agriculture Outcomes initiative
PepsiCo has unveiled the third year of its global agriculture initiative, the Positive Agriculture Outcomes (PAO) Accelerator, endorsing eight more projects in nine nations. Aimed at addressing pressing agricultural issues, the initiative propels PepsiCo’s pep+ agenda. The PAO Accelerator pledges co-investment to local farms to expedite various Positive Agriculture projects and supports agri-tech startups with scalable products or technologies.
West European potato production under severe pressure: NEPG highlights extreme weather and seed shortages
Europe’s potato harvest was negatively impacted by heavy rainfall, causing difficulties in harvesting and potential supply shortages in the NEPG countries – Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and France. Though yields were good, the wet weather left about 1.4 million tonnes unharvested, mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium. NEPG warns of increased risks and costs for farmers, deteriorating potato quality, and escalating market prices. Concerns are also rising over seed availability for the Spring 2024 season due to a reduction in seed production.
The potato market in Europe, including Ireland, is grappling with significant challenges due to adverse weather conditions, despite strong home consumption and retail sales, according to an update from the Irish Farmers Association (IFA). Poor yields and difficult harvesting conditions are widespread, with over 5% of the seed crop in Holland and 20% of the total potato crop still in the ground. Similar issues are prevalent in other major potato-producing countries like Germany, France, and Belgium, where 3.5 to 4 million tonnes of potatoes are yet to be harvested.
The Soil Health Institute and McCain Foods hosted a panel discussion on the integration of cover crops into potato farming systems. Panelists, who represented diverse geographies, outlined four principles: know your goal, don’t seek perfection, view it as an investment, and consult experts. Beyond soil coverage, cover crops can enhance soil health, attract beneficial insects and even provide livestock feed.
In a gesture of community aid amidst rising food insecurity McCain Foods partnered with nonprofit Foodbank Australia to donate around 100,000 meals. The meals were prepared at the company’s Wendouree-based factory, dedicating its full production line to the effort for a day. Ross Fallon, McCain Foods’ supply chain director, highlighted the growing need for such support, while Foodbank Victoria’s CEO, Dave McNamara, urged other food manufacturers to follow suit.
Due to the world’s population reaching 8 billion, there is a high demand for food security. The potato could be key in meeting this need. However, its production is declining and methods to increase yield are environmentally damaging. This article by By Prof Lucy Moleleki at the University of Pretoria in South Africa highlights the advantages of crop rotation as an effective, eco-friendly way to control pathogens and optimize yields.
McDonald’s, a leading global fast-food chain, has displayed its dominance by serving 70 million customers daily, exceeding the populations of countries like France, the UK, Italy, Argentina, Canada, and Poland. With over 40,275 outlets worldwide, McDonald’s has significantly outpaced its nearest competitor, Subway. In 2022, the US, the birthplace of McDonald’s, generated $9.42 billion in revenue, while international markets collectively contributed about $11.16 billion. McDonald’s success is attributed to aggressive marketing and customer engagement through the McDonald’s Rewards program.
In 2023, US potato production soared by 9% to 20 million tonnes, the first increase since 2017. This surplus led to a significant drop in prices, benefiting food manufacturers. Enhanced growing conditions and expanded acreage in key states like Idaho contributed to this rise. The US, a leading global potato producer, also saw a 6% increase in exports, despite a decline in imports during the July-September period.
A research team in Italy studied acrylamide levels in over 15,000 food samples and found potato-based products and coffee were the top sources of exposure to the potentially carcinogenic compound. The study also revealed that mitigation measures by the European Union have made a significant difference over time, notably decreasing contamination levels. However, it equally emphasized continuous monitoring and strict regulation to maintain these improvements and ensure public health.
Rob Sears, a PhD student at the University of Tennessee, developed a potato plant that glows green in response to gamma radiation, serving as a natural radiation detector. This phytosensor is ideal for widespread use due to potatoes’ resilience and adaptability. The innovation offers a simple, cost-effective method for radiation monitoring, potentially enhancing safety in nuclear energy contexts. As nuclear energy continues to be used across the world, there is an increased demand for effective and easily accessible radiation detection methods.
Innovations and insights at the Ontario Potato Conference and AGM: Must-attend events for potato industry professionals
The 2024 Ontario Potato Conference, organized by Dr. Eugenia Banks and the Ontario Potato Board, is set for February 29th in Guelph. Featuring a Late Blight Symposium and a growers’ panel, the conference will address 2023’s challenges and strategies for 2024. The event includes a Trade Show with new tech exhibitors. The Ontario Potato Board’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Dec 6 will feature a special zoom presentation by Dr. Nora Olsen on tips for managing compromised potatoes in storage.
BP2023: Evolution Separator and Trinity haulm toppers take center stage amidst challenging weather conditions
Scotts Precision Engineering is set to exhibit at BP2023, showcasing their Evolution Separator and Trinity haulm toppers, addressing challenges in UK agriculture due to bad weather. The Evolution Separator offers enhanced crop cleaning, while the Trinity range ensures efficient haulm topping. Derek Scott, the Managing Director, will present on pre-cleaning harvested potatoes, highlighting the company’s commitment to advancing agricultural technology and supporting farmers in these challenging times.
GB Potatoes, Potato Storage Insight, and SDF Agriculture have initiated the Strategic Potato Stores project to improve potato storage practices. The project, inspired by the SPot Farms model, encourages industry collaboration and practical research. It includes trials with various potato varieties and sprout suppressants, focusing on efficiency and profitability. Key activities include grower meetings, open days, and workshops in 2024, alongside evaluations of PCN-resistant varieties. This initiative emphasizes practical solutions and shared industry knowledge.
Researchers at the University of Idaho and the USDA/ERS conducted a study to identify soil health practices that are acceptable to farmers. The study considered several factors, including their production systems, land management, and farmers’ attitudes toward these practices. It highlights the challenges of intensive farming on soil health and explores factors influencing farmers’ decisions, such as profitability, land tenure, and capital constraints. The research aims to identify acceptable practices for farmers to promote soil health and profitability.
The Scottish Farmer reports on the severe impact of wet weather on potato farmers in Scotland. Devastating storms have led to waterlogged fields, causing significant damage to potato crops. This has forced some farmers to abandon their harvests. The situation is causing concerns about the marketability and storage of potatoes, potentially leading to increased prices and reduced availability. Scottish farmers are struggling with the aftermath, questioning their long-term strategies in the face of such recurrent extreme weather events.
The World Potato Congress Inc. announces a webinar featuring WPC President Dr. Peter VanderZaag and Dr. André Devaux, focusing on the role of potatoes in global food security. The event, scheduled for November 28, 2023, at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, will highlight the potato’s status as the world’s third most important food crop, its growing significance in developing regions, and the importance of scientific innovation for enhancing yield. Success stories and strategies for international collaboration in potato production will also be discussed.
A team led by Zsofia Szendrei at MSU received a $6 million USDA grant to develop sustainable pest management strategies for U.S. potato farming, moving away from neonicotinoids. The team will explore alternative management solutions in lieu of using neonicotinoids. This grant was initiated through discussions with growers and potato industry representatives who highlighted the need for a project like this in 2020. The project, involving experts across various fields, will explore alternative insecticides and long-term industry impacts.
The November Synopsis bulletin from Potato Storage Insight (PSI) discusses challenges in potato storage in the UK, particularly due to a difficult harvest with waterlogged fields. It covers managing wet crops, bacterial soft rot, and the importance of quality checks. PSI will attend the BP2023 event in Harrogate and is advancing the SPoT storage initiative, including a December workshop. The bulletin also highlights the role of energy monitoring systems in reducing storage costs. PSI offers detailed advice through the AHDB archive and directly via Adrian Cunnington.