Potato experts warn UK at risk of being 'overtaken' in spud tech race

Experts at the James Hutton Institute say countries like China could leave us behind

There’s a warning the UK could be “overtaken” as a hub for research into potato sustainability, unless we take advantage of latest technologies.

Experts at the James Hutton Institute say countries like China could leave the UK behind.

The facility near Dundee, which is currently devising a national potato innovation centre, says we must make more strides in the sustainability of our spuds.

“If we don’t do it, what will happen is, you’ll find China has invested massively in potato science,” said Lesley Torrance, Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute.

They’ve elevated potato as a key to help in their food security campaign. We’ll be overtaken probably.

It comes as growers are being challenged to move away from chemicals.

Technologies, aimed at supporting that transition, were on display at an industry event, Potatoes in Practice, this week.

That includes a machine which kills of unwanted parts of crops using electricity.

“Chemicals which we have traditionally used are no longer being approved so there are changes being forced on the sector, almost constantly,” said Euan Caldwell, Head of Farming at the James Hutton Institute.

“This is just one of the tools which can help us in the future.”

Seed potatoes play an important part in our economy.

More than three quarters of Britain’s exports come from Scotland.

As science looks to solve some problems, political ones still remain.

Seed potato growers in the UK are now locked out of the EU market post- Brexit.

A ban for those in Scotland exporting to Northern Ireland is set to be lifted – but producers say that will make little difference to business.

Eddie Craig, potato merchant of Cullen Allen, said: “Northern Ireland is 1.5 million people, Ireland has a whole has six million people.

“So Northern Ireland would be 25% of the Irish market and the Irish market has traditionally relied on Scottish seed potatoes on a large extent.”

Other challenges facing the industry include rising costs and our ever changing climate.

“We’re getting more pests and diseases as a result of warmer climate,” added Lesley Torrance.

“Pests and diseases are moving into Scotland and the UK. There was talk of Colorado beetle being found in the south of England.

“We need ways of combating pests and diseases in the new environment.”

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