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The European Association of Potato Research, Pests and Pathogens Section meeting was held in the beautiful town of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, on the banks of Lake Neuchâtel. This meeting was followed by the International Spongospora Workshop. The EAPR meeting was attended by 68 delegates (pictured below) from various countries in Europe, but also from Australia, Chile, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA.
The theme of the EAPR workshop was “Reducing pesticide use while preserving potato productivity and profitability”. Although the stricter legislation in Europe and other regions on the use of pesticides in agriculture makes control of pests and pathogens more difficult, it opens up new research opportunities.
Scientists need to focus on finding innovative, sustainable strategies for effective management of pests and pathogens in crops. The speakers at the workshop addressed various novel approaches, as well as the challenges related to reduction of pesticide use in potato production. It is clear that breeding for resistance to various biotic threats is an avenue that will be explored and utilised more in future, to address the changing requirements in agriculture, while at the same time increase food production. Many research groups have made great advances in this field, particularly in breeding for resistance of potato to late blight, Potato Virus Y (PVY) and Potato Mop-Top Virus (PMTV). In the USA, many potato breeders are collaborating in a Speciality Crop Research Initiative grant, focused on tuber necrosing viruses, such as PVYNTN and PMTV. Advances in late blight control have been made through campaigns such as “Fight against Blight” in Scotland, and the Euroblight network. These programmes have highlighted the importance of integrated pest management strategies, which include the use of host resistance, disease risk forecasting, understanding of the pathogen population and biology, and optimal fungicide use.
Production of a healthy crop is inherently related to the health of the soil. Soil health, and the many parameters used to measure it, is also the focus of a number of researchers. A multitude of factors influence the health of a soil, and the majority of these are affected by cropping and soil management factors.
Another focus area at the workshop was the development of more accurate and effisensitive detection methods of pathogens in plant and soil. The use of the correct detection method is critical in surveillance programmes, seed certification schemes, risk management, phytosanitary regulations and control strategies.
The presentations at the Spongospora workshop (the attendees are pictured above) continued along the same vein, with a significant focus on management of the pathogen through pre-plant seed treatments, choice of cultivar, correct selection of fields and rotation crops, irrigation management and detection of the pathogen in various matrices.
The meeting, workshop and field day were superb opportunities for research interaction, collaborations, exploration of new avenues for investigation, as well as to catch up with friends. I would like to thank the organisers of the EAPR meeting and the Spongospora workshop for exceptionally well organised and productive events, and the BSPP for travel funding, which made it possible for me to attend and present at these international meetings.
Jacquie van der Waals University of Plant and Soil Sciences Pretoria, South Africa