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Fight Against Blight: James Hutton Institute secures funding to continue vital late blight monitoring and testing

Source: The James Hutton Institute (JHI)

Image: A blight infected potato plant. Credit JHI

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The James Hutton Institute (JHI) will continue in its role to help 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 Hutton to maintain its ongoing monitoring and testing work as part of the Fight Against Blight (FAB) scheme.


The FAB scheme was first launched in 2006, using the monitoring of Phytophthora infestans populations via a nationwide network of agronomists, growers, and industry representatives (the FAB Scouts). This network annually submits up to 1,500 field samples from suspected late blight outbreaks throughout Britain.

The work, led by Dr David Cooke and Dr Alison Lees from The James Hutton Institute, 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.


Good news for potato growers

Dr David Cooke said: “The continuation of FAB is great news for growers and the sector more widely, and also for the longer-term research effort that supports this area.

“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 in 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 (A novel Phytophthora infestans genotype that is threatening potato production due to its resistance to a key fungicide) 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 industry is kept well-informed on emerging threats, as well as best-practice for late blight management.


Continued fight against potato blight in the UK

Dr Jonathan Snape, Director of James Hutton Limited, 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.


“As such, we thank the following organisations for their sponsorship and continued support of Fight Against Blight; Certis Belchim, UPL Ltd, BASF, Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta, Albert Bartlett, Agrovista, Frontier, Hutchinsons, GB Potatoes, McCain, Scottish Agronomy, The Seed Potato Organisation, Agrico, Branston, SAC Consulting and Agrii.”

Ed Bingham, Global Crop Manager at Certis Belchim, was delighted to see the company continue to support this “invaluable” resource as a platinum sponsor.

He said: “Certis-Belchim is extremely pleased at being a platinum sponsor again for the FAB project. 


“This service provides growers and stakeholders the opportunity to quickly understand any new late blight strains that are present, which in turn help to fine-tune strategies in the field.  When faced with such uncertainty on resistance and regulatory pressures, this resource is invaluable to the industry.”


The importance of effective control

Antonia Walker of UPL Ltd, the scheme’s other platinum sponsor added: “The biggest threats facing the UK potato industry are in production and market volatility, however it also all hangs in the balance when it comes to effective blight control. 

“With the continuing evolution of new late blight strains, weakening chemistry, and the continued loss of other vital active substances, we at UPL are very clear in our mission in continuing to support the dedicated team at James Hutton Institute and the Fight Against Blight Project.  Without it, there would be no industry.”

Registered FAB Scouts will have already received their sampling packs and the FAB website is live at  https://blight.hutton.ac.uk/ where people can access a record of all outbreaks since 2017. The FAB scheme is a great example of genuine cross-sector collaboration, but it does rely heavily on continued support from the wider industry.


So should you, or your organisation, wish to become a scout or key sponsor, please contact fab@hutton.ac.uk.

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