James Hutton scientists get funding to continue vital late blight work

Late blight disease has already been reported in Jersey and in Kent this year
Late blight disease has already been reported in Jersey and in Kent this year

Scientists at the James Hutton Institute will continue their role in helping to protect Britain’s potato crop against late blight after further funding was secured.

The new award - sourced from a consortium of key industry partners – will allow the agri-science lab to maintain its ongoing monitoring and testing work.

The Fight Against Blight (FAB) scheme was first launched in 2006, using the monitoring of Phytophthora infestans populations via a nationwide network of agronomists, growers, and industry representatives.

This network annually submits up to 1,500 field samples from suspected late blight outbreaks throughout Britain.

The work includes both the annual sampling of late blight outbreaks, the characterisation of pathogen populations, as well as fungicide sensitivity testing on active ingredients prioritised by the industry.

Dr David Cooke, of the James Hutton Institute, which is based in Aberdeen and Dundee, said the continuation of the FAB scheme was great news for growers and the sector more widely.

He added: “With concerns about resistance to CAA and OSBPI fungicides in new genotypes reported on the continent last year, the early detection of any new arrivals to GB crops is going to be crucial to building effective IPM programs for 2024 potato crops.”

Late blight has already been reported in Jersey and in Kent this year, and the wet winter conditions and unharvested crops have created additional sources and avenues for the disease.

Furthermore, the discovery of genotype EU43 in Ireland in 2023 has also added concern about potential inoculum sources spreading from the west into early GB crops.

Crucially, it is the testing of these outbreaks which allows for the rapid in-season identification of genotypes.

This, in combination with an end of season report, ensures the potato sector is kept well-informed on emerging threats, as well as best-practice for late blight management.

Dr Jonathan Snape, director of James Hutton, stressed the importance of industry leaders coming together to help in the continued fight against potato blight across the UK.

He said: “Without the essential contributions from this cross-sector consortium it would simply not be possible to continue the nationwide monitoring of emerging genotypes at a time when it is needed most."