The biggest potato conference ever held in GB, World Potato Congress, took place in Edinburgh in May, attracting more than 800 delegates from over 50 countries to discuss the world’s third most important food crop.The noteworthy line-up of speakers included the UK’s chief scientific adviser and author of the Foresight report, Prof Sir John Beddington, who expressed his surprise that some people are still sceptical of climate change.“What will happen in the next 20 years is already determined by what is happening now,” said Prof Beddington. “The outlook is partly gloomy, partly frightening and partly optimistic.”He went on to emphasise the important role the potato will play in providing the food necessary to feed the world’s rising population that is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025. A steady increase in potato yields has allowed production to remain broadly constant since 1960, despite a reduction in the amount of land under cultivation. Scientific advances can help us to reduce the uncertainty that the industry faces, for example by better adapting to the impacts of climate change; the pressure on water use; and by helping us to lessen losses incurred by producers - currently 40% of potential yields. These advances, such as the unravelling of the potato genome to help develop disease resistant varieties, will be important as they will facilitate the necessary boost in global production of potatoes above the current 300m tonnes. Other speakers at the congress included Ronnie Bartlett (managing director, Albert Bartlett and Sons Ltd), Nick Vermont (regional CEO, McCain Foods Ltd), David Wilkinson (senior director of agriculture, PepsiCo).
Moreover, international figures including Kevin Clayton-Greene (biosecurity consultant, AUSVEG, Australia) and Colin Chartres (director general, International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka) held workshops at the congress.“We are delighted by the interest shown by the whole of the British supply chain in World Potato Congress,” says Potato Council director Rob Clayton. “We have received really positive feedback from every sector of the industry on the relevance and interest of the discussions.“The congress offered a unique opportunity for prospecting for new business and networking with current clients. Additionally, with subject matters designed to attract all the different areas of the sector, there were important technical messages for everyone to take home.“World Potato Congress has been a great opportunity for the industry to hear the views of specialists from around the world and discover how different countries address similar issues to those we face here.”