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The ability of some of the most potentially damaging diseases to the country’s potato crop to survive for a long time in limbo should make growers seriously consider washing the wooden crates in which the crop is now stored.
That was the opinion of Dr Gerry Saddler, the head of the bacteriology at the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture agency, when speaking at the Potatoes in Practice day.
SASA has been in the forefront of the battle against diseases such as Brown Rot and Ring Rot coming into Scotland. More recently there has been the arrival of the bacterial disease Dickeya. With these and other existing diseases, Dr Saddler said that growers should balance the cost and risk in all their actions.
He suggested that wooden crates that had gone off farm and may have gone down south to England should be cleaned when they came back to any seed growing farm. Apart from the potential for bacterial disease being brought onto seed growing farms, there was a real risk of introducing potato cyst nematodes.
Growers should also consider whether they use second hand sacks if there was any risk of these having been used to handle other potatoes.
He listed the considerable costs to any business where disease was found with the destruction of the infected crop being only part of the penalty. “The risks are incalculable and they could devastate businesses.”
The annual growing crop inspections carried out in July had not identified any problems in the seed crops, other than a slight rise in one of the well known virus problems. But Dr Saddler said that those farms where dickey had been found would be under extra surveillance. The same was true of those farms downstream from the places of infection as the disease is water borne. Although the season is passed, he said that a ban on irrigation might be considered if there was any evidence of the bacterial disease having entered the watercourse.
Since dickeya was found in Scotland, procedures have been tightened up and seed growers have again been urged to join the voluntary Safe Haven scheme which is designed to keep disease from entering the country.
Dr Saddler said Government should not bear the complete responsibility for ensuring disease did not enter the potato crop in this country, growers also had responsibilities in this direction.
More than two thirds of the seed area is now covered by the Safe Haven scheme which is based on purchasing seed from known safe sources. It does not stop the introduction of new varieties from the Continent but they have to go through a quarantine procedure that ensures there is no importation of disease.
Earlier Dr Saddler had highlighted the drivers for more infection coming into the country. The increased globalisation of world trade and climate change both brought with them added risk of imported disease.
The entry of countries such as Bulgaria and Turkey into the European Union could see the return of an old enemy, Wart Disease which almost a century ago devastated the UK potato crop before special legislation was brought in to help control it.
SASA are also wary of exotic diseases such as Zebra Chip which is transmitted by insects and which is now endemic in New Zealand.