Strategic Potato Farm Scotland looks for solutions for the seed industry

AHDB’s new host SPot farmer in Scotland, seed potato producer, Jim Reid, from Milton of Mathers farm, St. Cyrus, north of Montrose, is aiming to find sustainable solutions for the seed potato industry.

Eric Anderson from Scottish Agronomy and Colin Herron from McCain will work alongside Jim and AHDB to support the project over the next four years.

McCain has been involved with Scotland’s seed potato industry for more than 30 years and works with over 50 growers on a contract basis.

Jim farms alongside his brother Ron and father Curly and their mixed arable farm has around 80ha dedicated to potatoes.

The Reid family has been supplying McCain since 1986, with all potato production at their farm currently dedicated to providing seed for the company.

Looking for a ‘plan B’

They are also members of the seed ‘Safe Haven’ scheme, a farm assurance scheme aimed at providing practical prevention against potato ring rot and safeguarding the future of Britain’s potato industry.

Planting began in early May when Jim Reid and Eric Anderson planted 29.5ha with CV Daisy in plots.

Different levels of nitrogen have been applied and management strips on desiccation have also been planted along with cover crop strips to encourage biodiversity and natural predators to aphids.

An area of spring barley has also been planted around the edge of the field to act as a purge area. This will encourage non-colonising aphids carrying PVY to feed on the cereal crops rather than spread the virus to the potato crop.

Multiple studies on desiccation have been carried out over the last nine years at the farm.

Jim Reid explained: “In the last decade we have been looking for a ‘plan B’ for desiccation; we are happy to now have extra support from AHDB and we believe that with their help, we will find a solution, we hope to learn as much as possible from this project and share it with the rest of the industry.”

Different fertilising regimes will also be compared, as well as the impact of cultivations, as part of the desiccation trials that will be carried out at the farm.

Different aspects of seed potato sustainability will also be investigated by the SPot farm including storage, alternative energy sources and biosecurity protocols.

Innovation and technology are other key objectives along with industry development, looking at health and safety, operator training, mental health and wellbeing, and a community project with local schools. Soil health and climate change targets will also be on the agenda and it is anticipated that these will dominate discussions at SPot farm meetings.

Claire Hodge, senior arable knowledge exchange manager, AHDB explained: “We are just beginning our programme of trials at Milton of Mathers and over the lifetime of the project our evaluations will include cultivations, seed spacing, storage and seed treatment, nutrition, sustainable PCN strategies, alternative methods to control PVY and desiccation options post-diquat.

“We will also look at different aspects of the management of producing seed potatoes.

We hope that the outcome of the project will be to challenge the perception of individual growers and their current understanding, asking them if what is being done is the way forward for sustainable production.

“Answers to many essential questions facing the seed potato industry will be provided and leave some of the more commonly used chemicals and methods behind.”