A new Innovative Farmers field lab is set to explore potato blight, and any growers interested in learning more about the management of blight are invited to take part in the trials. Participants will explore innovative management approaches including fungal adaptation of soils, resistant varieties and the use of cover crops.
The field lab is being coordinated by the Organic Research Centre, in partnership with the Organic Growers Alliance and Land Workers Alliance. The group’s first meeting is being held on Monday 4 December at Duchy Home Farm in Tetbury, and interested growers are invited to come along. Attendees will hear about the blight pathogen, breeding resistant and the latest ideas for control. They will then decide which management techniques to explore, and design the trials.
Fred Bonestroo, Duchy Home Farm, said: “Blight is one of the biggest challenges faced by organic potato growers, but there are a number of possible solutions out there for overcoming it. This will be a great opportunity for us to look at the efficacy and practicality of these solutions in a real-world setting. We’re no strangers to field trials here, we use them as a way to gain meaningful insight into the way we grow – and the more people who get involved, the more robust the results become.”
Copper application has historically been a common solution for combatting blight but is heavily restricted in organic farming. The fungicide Cuprokylt (copper oxycloride) could only be used on top fruit and potatoes under emergency authorisations from DEFRA to September 2017, so until new regulations are agreed the need for reliable alternative blight control methods is pressing. Many smaller growers have long been experimenting with alternatives on an individual basis, and this field lab will help these growers collaborate on more strategic testing to share knowledge and results.
Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture at the Soil Association, said: “We know that growing can be successful without copper, and many growers have shown that it is possible to deliver a good crop whilst coping with blight. Growers are increasingly looking for innovative and proven methods of success, and that’s precisely what this field lab is about. By bringing a group of growers together to trial different methods and different varieties we can gain broader insight and results that will help lead the way for other farmers.”
Although a growing number of blight resistant varieties are on the market, a further challenge comes in making these varieties attractive to the retail and consumer audience. With this in mind the field lab may also explore the quality, taste and versatility of the varieties grown in order to identify those with the greatest potential to succeed profitably on a wider scale.