The SNP Government has committed £2.2 million to a major new project, to tackle pests in potatoes through the protection of clean land and the management of infested land.
The project will help safeguard the existence of the Scottish potato industry on Arran, Ayrshire and across Scotland, with a specific focus on tackling potato cyst nematode (PCN).
PCN also affects flower bulbs and limits their exports to other countries. This limitation has led to a decline in land available for growing potato seed and bulbs, with estimated production losses of £25 million per annum for seed potatoes and a possible end to the seed industry by 2045.
The project will be led by Scotland’s Plant Health Centre (PHC) and will receive £2.2 million of SNP Government funding over five years, with £470,000 of the funding made available for this year.
It follows the PHC chaired working group set up in 2020 to identify a strategy to deal with PCN, with more than 50 industry, government and academic partners. The group published a report outlining key recommendations, which the new project will now undertake.
The work will involve the James Hutton Institute, Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland (BioSS), Soil Essentials, Scottish Agronomy and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).
Kenneth Gibson MSP said:
“Scotland’s seed potato and bulb sectors are worth £112 million and £7 million to our rural economy each year respectively. Not being able to rely on the Ayrshire potato industry or the production of Arran Banners, would be unthinkable.
“It’s been predicted that if co-ordinated action is not taken now, Scotland’s bulb and potato industries may no longer be viable in the next 30 years due to the reduction in available non-infested land.
“The SNP Government recognises that we must act to find a solution now, and fully supports the work academics and industry experts with this funding.”
Prof Ian Toth of the James Hutton Institute, who led the working group and will lead the new project said:
“This is a fantastic example of how Scottish industry, government and academia can work together to solve important Scottish issues and I am proud that Scotland’s Plant Health Centre has been given such a central role in this. We will make every effort to ensure success and I look forward to working with all involved.”