Shropshire Star

Fighting back against potato pest

Potato Cyst Nematodes Globodera pallida and G. rostochiensis are the most damaging pests of potatoes in the UK, costing the industry in excess of £25m each year in lost yield.

Bill Watts, AHDB Potatoes Knowledge Exchange Manager (West)

Often more readily recognised by the name "eelworm" after their eel-like appearance, the microscopic nematodes are found present in many potato-producing fields.

Potato cyst nematodes cause tuber yield loss in potatoes by invading roots during early plant development, and then drawing nutrients from the plant vascular system.

They can multiply by up to 50 times in a single generation, with some members of a population persisting in soil for in excess of 20 years between potato crops. Management of PCN is therefore prominent in the minds of many UK growers.

AHDB Potatoes has been active in generating a platform for discussion of PCN management techniques, among other topic areas, through the Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm West, at Heal Farms, near Shawbury, Shropshire.

The fungicide fluopyram was investigated this year for its potential to manage PCN after evidence of nematicidal properties recorded by its manufacturer, Bayer CropScience.

One SPot demonstrations included both fluopyram to control PCN and treatments for black scurf caused by Rhizoctonia solani. Most readers will recognise R. solani disease as the small black lumps that cling to potato tubers, even when having been washed. These fungal bodies, known as sclerotia, are one of the primary means by which R. solani persists in soil between susceptible host crops.

Interestingly, PCN and R. solani are known to cause greatly enhanced damage to potatoes when working in combination, above that of a simple additive effect.

Other areas under scrutiny included the effectiveness of the plant growth regulator maleic hydrazide for the long term storage of potatoes, and the effects of working depth and forward speed of a nematicide applicator during work, on the effectiveness of nematicide application to soil.

The SPot farm program offers potato growers the opportunity to meet and challenge researchers and technical experts on some of the newest technology and innovations coming into the industry, in a real farm scenario.

The pressure on Heal Farms from PCN also acts as an excellent case study for other potato growers in how best to cope with these important pests.

Outcomes from the studies carried out at SPot West this year will be presented at AHDB’s SPot West results day on December 12 at Harper Adams University.

Speakers will include Dr Matthew Back, a Reader in Plant Nematology at Harper Adams University who will cover the technical material related to PCN management, a representative from Bayer CropScience who will be discussing Fluopyram, and a representative from Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research who will be discussing maleic hydrazide and other developments in potato storage.

Bill Watts, AHDB Potatoes Knowledge Exchange Manager (West)