A GROUP of 42 growers, farmers, and industry representatives from across Scotland met up to take action against a pest that could wipe out Scotland’s potato industry by 2025.

Held in Angus, the area of the UK worst affected, this was the first meeting of a new Soil Association Scotland-led Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group formed to unite the industry against the threat of potato cyst nematode (PCN).

Facilitated by Calum Johnston of SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the meeting saw speakers outline the available data on the spread of PCN and potential control methods, followed by group discussions on viable options to halt the spread of infested land.

The pallida species of PCN is a particular concern, with the amount of infected land doubling every six or seven years and it may take up to 30 years before infestations decline to allow seed potatoes to be grown on that land again.

READ MORE: Innis and Gunn crowdfunding to launch new Edinburgh brewery

Speaker Jon Pickup of SASA said: “We’re seeing an exponential increase in our findings of pallida in Angus alone. At the moment we’re finding PCN in about 500 hectares per annum, but the exponential spread means that by 2025 this could be at 1400-1500 hectares. With 6-year rotations, the management decisions we make now will only change things from 2026 onwards.”

The National: The meeting discussed possible solutions and hurdles, such as the six-year crop rotationThe meeting discussed possible solutions and hurdles, such as the six-year crop rotation

The financial implication of this is concerning. Pickup added: “Estimates are that we’re at a loss of £2-3 million per year in seed potatoes and a built-in £5-6m loss by 2025.”

A long-term solution discussed was the need to grow varieties of potato resistant to PCN. But of the top 15 major Scottish varieties of seed potatoes currently grown, only innovator and royal varieties are resistant to pallida, and issues with demand exacerbate this problem.

Kim Davie, also of SASA, said: “Most pallida- resistant varieties are processing varieties, but in Scotland our ware market is for table varieties. There are only a few pallida-resistant varieties currently suitable for use as table varieties and the question is how do we get supermarkets to take these resistant varieties.”

A second RISS group, facilitated by SAOS, has also recently formed to research whether a compost high in chitin, made using the waste shells from Scottish shellfish, can act as a non-chemical method of decreasing the level of PCN in potato and daffodil bulb fields.