Seed potato trials turn to science to find disease alternatives
The third in a series of case studies, developed under the Presidential Initiative RHASS (PI), exploring the science behind food and drink production, will examine how the farmer-owned cooperative, Scottish Agronomy, works with farmers to develop alternative and more integrated pest management programs.
Scottish Agronomy works with Jim Reid, of Milton of Mathers Farm, near St Cyrus, who has been involved in seed potato trials for over a decade. Together they examined the benefits and practicality of spreading straw mulch and applying mineral oils to the canopy and compared this integrated approach to that of using a pyrethroid insecticide. .
Conducting trials, alongside a sister trial in Fife, they found that applying straw mulch resulted in a 49% reduction, with mineral oil causing a 54% reduction in mosaic virus, so that a pyrethroid insecticide actually increased the mosaic virus.
Eric Anderson, from Scottish Agronomy, explained why science is needed more than ever to provide solutions to some of the climate pressures threatening crops, and argued that the need for collaboration with growers and researchers is key to translate science into practice.
“It is important that as scientists and researchers we stay ahead of the industry in identifying problems and can create approaches to address these challenges. In doing so, we have a rather unique relationship where we trust and complement each other.
“Our skills base is largely complementary, but too often scientists are guilty of working in silos, and there is a lack of rapprochement through practice. With translational science, you can begin to understand technical problems and find practical solutions. »
Jim Reid added: ‘There is a realization in agriculture, that we have taken a belt and braces approach to protecting our crops no matter what the consequences and now we are seeing aphids becoming more resistant to pyrethroids and the few products we have left are disappearing.
“It’s important moving forward that we listen to the science and look at how we can take a more integrated approach to building our resilience. There is no silver bullet, but through some of the work we have done during our trials, we have been able to demonstrate practical and scalable techniques that could be more widely adopted by the potato industry from seed.
RHASS PI Vice President Ewan Pate concluded: “For decades, the scientific answer to a problem like aphid resistance to insecticides would have been to look to chemistry for a solution. Now the answer is more likely to be biological, or even mechanical.
“It is science nonetheless and this interesting work at Milton of Mathers fits very well with the RHASS 2023 Presidential initiative which aims to highlight the science behind food and beverage production.”