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Collaboration is the basis for progress

May 2022


Nick Winmill, head of potato research and development for trials specialist and crop advisers Agrii, outlines why the Potato Partnership is so important to the future of the potato sector


For any industry to progress it needs a sound research and development programme. Agriculture is no different. Our greatest advances are the result of research, but we should not rest on past successes. Progress must be constant.


The challenges confronting this industry are many and varied. Events of the past two years have exposed the fragility of global supply chains and highlighted that there is more to food security than the means to afford it. This is compounded by the gradual withdrawal of plant protection products seen as essential to the production of food stuffs to the tightening of environmental regulations that restrict production capacity.


As crop scientists and agronomists our purpose is to support growers in their endeavours. We are only too aware of the difficulties they face in managing weed, pest and disease threats and we share their frustration. The potato sector, just as any other in our industry, needs large-scale, multifaceted research to overcome these challenges. We also have a duty to consider the challenges of the future, especially those that emerge as a consequence of a warming climate. It is in all our interests that the learnings of this research are shared across the sector and not kept for the benefit of a select few on rewarding contracts, with strong brands or large market shares to protect.


This is the purpose of the Potato Partnership. It is a truly collaborative venture with James Foskett Farms providing core trials sites and Mike Shapland management time with additional sites from other grower members of East Suffolk Produce and agronomists. There is no levy or subscription fee, those involved contribute what they can. At Agrii we have rolled most of our eastern region potato trials into it while CUPGRA has agreed to support further work. Our immediate focus may be wireworm control and the threat of losing metribuzin, mancozeb and fosthiazate, but we have a programme of work that will carry us through to the next decade if we can retain the support needed to deliver it.

The objective is simple: use the tools and resources available to overcome the challenges threatening the sector. This is less about evaluating new or old products in isolation and more about seeing them as part of an integrated approach that considers variety attributes in the context of the situation.


We need to understand how and when to deploy these actions for the greatest benefit, developing and deploying Decision Support tools where appropriate. These will include forecasting models for pests and diseases but also real-time data from soil nutrient and moisture sensors for a truly holistic approach to crop management.


Previously much of this work was also done by AHDB Potatoes (and in linked areas, AHDB Horticulture), but with its demise the industry needs to take direct responsibility. We cannot expect government or other funders to support us if we are not first prepared to help ourselves. We need to be bold in our ambition and serious in our intent.


I believe our current and future challenges are best met through collaboration. It would be naïve to think that a hotchpotch of trials with no common protocols or management framework can find the answers needed to take our sector forward. It is in the interests of all parties to work together if we are to make the productivity gains needed to take potato production into a new era. The Potato Partnership is a step towards achieving it.

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