Scotland’s staple crops, including potatoes and raspberries, face challenges due to increasing global temperatures. To address this, scientists are harnessing the power of genomics, building on advances from the 2000 plant DNA sequencing breakthrough. The “phenomic revolution,” led by the James Hutton Institute, employs cutting-edge technology to study crops’ genetic responses to environmental changes, paving the way for a resilient agricultural future amidst the climate crisis.
In Bolivia’s high-altitude Potosí region, erratic weather and climate changes threaten the staple potato crop, essential for local families. Historically resilient, potatoes have thrived here for 8,000 years. However, a recent “heat dome” raised temperatures to 45°C, causing Bolivia’s highest winter temperature. Potosí faces severe drought, reducing water flow significantly. Many lack daily water access, hindering crop irrigation. Silvia, a local farmer, lost most of her potato yield, leading to increased food expenses. The looming El Niño may worsen the climate crisis impacts.
Ontario’s Alliston region is buzzing with potato harvest activities. Dr. Eugenia Banks of the Ontario Potato Board highlights the importance of maintaining tuber temperatures between 10-15C for storage, cautioning against warmer temperatures that can cause rot. P & K Vander Zaag Farms reports a healthy Lamoka crop, while in Melancthon, Andrew Tupling’s Caribou russets yield impressively. However, growth cracks are more prevalent this year across varieties.
Wet conditions in Aroostook County are threatening its multimillion-dollar potato crop. Persistent rainfall has caused sodden fields, preventing the harvesting of potatoes and raising concerns about rot. Aroostook County produces approximately 90% of Maine’s potatoes. This is the first time in over a decade that such wet conditions have affected the county’s farmers. Recent heavy rains, including those from a tropical storm, have exacerbated the situation. Experts emphasize the need for drier days to ensure a healthy crop.
CBC News reports on the concerns of potato farmers in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) as they begin their harvest amidst wet conditions. Due to the excessive rainfall during the summer, farmers are apprehensive about the impact on this year’s crop. Greg Donald, the general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, mentions that while the crop looks promising, it might not be as bountiful as the previous year. The wet conditions could lead to issues like tuber rot, especially in areas with poor drainage.
Ukraine’s potato industry is under strain due to a combination of erratic weather and geopolitical conflict, according to the Vice-President of the Ukrainian Potato Growers Association, Nick Gordiichuk. A wet spring and dry summer have led to delayed planting and lower yields. The ongoing war with Russia has caused a significant population exodus, reducing the domestic market. Input costs, including fertilizers and chemicals, have surged by 40%.
The European potato industry has faced an unprecedented year of highs and lows, according to Raiffeisen’s CEO, Ferdi Buffen, who opened the 33rd Weuthen Potato Day in Germany recently. Extreme weather, soaring and plummeting prices, and supply chain disruptions have marked this year as an “unimaginable roller coaster ride.” Despite these challenges, the industry is adapting and gearing up for future opportunities, proving that even in extreme years, resilience and innovation shine through, Mr. Buffen said.
Nigeria has introduced new potato varieties to bolster its local farming and reduce dependence on European seeds. These varieties, resistant to disease and suited to Nigeria’s climate, were launched by the Nigerian Potato Seed Safety Partnership with Germany’s GIZ support. Collaborating with local research institutes, four types—Unica, Juriya, Babban, and Kyau—will be distributed. This move addresses the country’s low potato yield and emphasizes the importance of local production for food security amidst global challenges.
Othello, Washington, known as the global french-fry capital, faces a water crisis. Benefiting from climate change, the town produces 15% of North America’s frozen potato products. However, its rapid growth has led to dwindling water supplies. Without a $400 million investment to access water from the Columbia River canals, Othello’s wells could dry up in five years, threatening national food security.
Due to Maine’s prolonged wet conditions, newly harvested potatoes are exhibiting “acne-like” growths, known scientifically as “lenticels.” While these blemishes might compromise the aesthetic appeal of the potatoes, there’s a more pressing concern. These scabs can potentially become breeding grounds for harmful bacteria and pathogens. Experts advise quick consumption and recommend letting such potatoes dry before storage to extend shelf life.
The 2023 EU potato harvest faces uncertainties due to earlier weather disruptions, including wet conditions during planting and subsequent dry spells. With decreased planted areas in key producers like Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland, this year’s yield might be one of the lowest ever. Although Mintec’s Benchmark Price recently dropped by €100/mt, experts predict sustained higher prices in the 2023/24 marketing year due to robust demand and limited supply.
A Canadian-led team has developed a comprehensive genetic roadmap of the potato to enhance its resilience to climate change. The study, led by McGill University’s Martina Strömvik, created a super-pangenome of the potato, identifying genetic variations that could be used to breed hybrid, climate-resilient varieties. The research could help develop potato varieties resistant to extreme weather and diseases, using CRISPR gene-editing technology.
The North-Western European Potato Growers (NEPG) reports a 2-3% increase in ware potato acreage, despite challenging early season conditions. Concerns arise over a decrease in seed availability for next spring, potentially impacting 2024’s production. Planting delays due to rainfall and other factors may also affect 2023’s yield. Despite these uncertainties, demand for processed potato products remains strong, with processors keen to secure supplies for the foreseeable future.
Unpredictable weather and a tough potato season have escalated the threat of Alternaria in the UK. The disease has been detected earlier than usual, with crops already showing severe die-back. The reduced use of mancozeb and expensive fertilisers, along with extreme heat and light stress, have made crops more susceptible. Syngenta’s Technical Manager, Andy Cunningham, advises early preventative measures and the use of specific fungicides to combat the disease and protect unaffected plants.
IFA reports that crops remain very much behind schedule in Ireland, following late plantings and subsequent drought. There are continued reports that yields of Queens are average. Across Europe thunderstorms have provided some well needed moisture for crops. Rainfall totals on the mainland have been patchy, often from 5 to 15mm but up to 40mm in thunderstorms in the Netherlands.
The National Centre for Potato Innovation, an initiative of the James Hutton Institute launched at the Royal Highland Show this week, is on a mission to develop new varieties of potato that have enhanced heat or drought tolerance or resistance to disease – but also crisp up nicely when they’re thrown in the chippie fryer, or mash like a dream. In recent times, the UK has been fairly self-sufficient in terms of potatoes, 70% self-sufficient compared with 50% for overall food security. “That’s significant, said Professor Ian Toth, director of the new centre. “It also needs to stay that way, or even increase.”
The first eleven days of June have been the hottest ever recorded, with Earth’s average air temperature exceeding 1.5C above pre-industrial times, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. This temporary breach of the 1.5C threshold, a key global heating indicator, underscores the urgency of climate action. Meanwhile, a heatwave in India has resulted in 166 deaths, highlighting the immediate human toll of extreme temperatures.
Farmers in Southern and Eastern Idaho are seeing damage to their winter crops due to a prolonged cool and moist spring that fostered the growth of snow mold fungi. Meanwhile, intense spring hailstorms shredded crops, and many winter wheat and winter barley fields had to be taken out of production due to yield reductions of up to 70%. Potato plants have also suffered foliar damage due to excessive moisture carrying herbicides too deeply into the soil profile.
PepsiCo India and agricultural cloud platform CropIn launched a crop intelligence platform aimed at monitoring and optimising potato crop yields, using mobile dashboard apps. The scheme benefits farmers with small landholdings who oftentimes lack the resources to monitor the proper use of water and fertilisers as well as to evaluate pesticide use. The platform combines satellite imagery and remote sensing data to offer farmers a 360-degree view of their crop.
Farmers are increasingly using biological products for sustainable, cost-effective yield benefits, but application timing is key to success. One such product, 3ALO T6P, a signalling compound from Unium Bioscience, has shown significant benefits when applied at the T3 stage on arable crops, according to Agrovista agronomist Phil Warham. Trials with 3ALO T6P at Heathcote Farms in the UK showed promising results, making it a regular component in their farming practices. The product can be used on potatoes at the mid bulking stage.
Extreme weather events, including droughts and floods, have drastically impacted Europe’s potato industry. Last year’s output decreased by around two million tonnes due to the conditions, causing a surge in prices and depleting UK and Irish stocks. Additionally, planting delays threaten future yields, and these challenges are likely to persist until at least 2024.
The James Hutton Institute has received funding to continue the “Fight Against Blight” (FAB) project, which monitors potato crop blight in the UK. The 2023 program will focus on sampling late blight outbreaks and assessing fungicide sensitivity. The BlightSpy tool provides data on weather conditions that could lead to blight, aiding effective management. This work is vital for anticipating new blight strains and informing best practices for blight management.
Changing weather patterns due to climate change have impacted potato growth in Northern Ireland, with insufficient rain and dry conditions causing delays in crop growth, according to Angus Wilson of potato producers Wilson’s Country. The supply shortage has escalated potato prices, affecting consumers and food businesses. 2022 was one of the driest years on record right across Europe. These climatic challenges are coupled with rising fuel and fertiliser costs for growers.