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The 16th Triennial Conference of the European Association for Potato Research Bilbao, Spain 17-22 July 2005
The EAPR 2005 conference took place in northern Spain, in the largest city of the Basque country, Bilbao, bringing together worldwide potato experts. Interestingly, not only scientists were among the nearly 400 conference participants from 45 countries. Surprisingly many representatives of private potato processing, breeding and seed potato production companies from around Europe were present to hear the latest advances of the many fields of potato research. Thus the conference truly provided a platform where scientists and industrial partners could meet and discuss problems and possible solutions in the current potato industry.
Nine keynote talks were presented on the first day of the conference. The topic of these talks ranged from environmental and food chain issues of potato production to genomics, and challenges of organic potato farming. The new role of CIP (the International Potato Center, Lima, Peru) in poverty alleviation based on the UN Millennium Development Target was emphasised by the director general, Pamela Anderson. The most futuristic keynote talk was given by Raymond Wheeler from the NASA Kennedy Space Center on the role of potatoes as a food supply for future space explorations. So far the outlook is encouraging: high tuber yields can be achieved in recirculating hydroponic cultures that mimic controlled growth conditions in space crafts. Experiments show that tuber forming is also possible in reduced gravity.
Overall, there were twelve major themes of the conference, including genomics, agronomy, physiology, organic farming, storage and processing. Most of the potato diseases (both in the field and storage) were covered in the Pathology section, but a lengthy separate section was reserved for potato late blight, which is recognised still as the most threatening disease to high yields in potato production, especially under organic farming. Possible alternative approaches to copper fungicide sprays (prohibited within the EU by 2008) in reducing disease spread were introduced by Maria Finckh who discussed the effect of field geometry, neighbouring fields and prevailing wind direction on the spread of late blight in organic farming. Smaller fields in the form of strip intercropping that are planted perpendicular to the main wind direction can reduce late blight pressure significantly.
Latest progress made in getting an insight into the potato genome especially for breeding purposes was presented in many talks and posters. For example, the use of retrotransposon-based fingerprinting and AFLPs in evaluating genetic diversity in potato landraces was discussed in several posters.
In addition to oral and poster presentations, four workshops were organised during the conference. These covered topics on genomics, money and ethics in genetics, the impact of EU on potato market, and the challenge of coexistence between organic, integrated and conventional potato farming. In the latter workshop, common goals of organic and conventional farming in plant health were recognised: the need for developing new cultivars with improved nutrient uptake and durable disease resistance, especially towards late blight. Therefore, research efforts towards reaching these goals should be joined.
One of the conference days was reserved for scientific excursions around the Basque Country and northern Spain. The participants could choose from seven different excursions that covered either sightseeing, culture and history, and brief introductions to local potato production and processing companies, as well as research facilities of the local conference organiser, NEIKER (Basque Institute for Agriculture Research and Development). Naturally, a visit to the Rioja wine production region was among the most popular options of the excursion programme! The sunniest weather of the week and the friendliness and hospitality of the Spanish hosts made the day very enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the last conference day was cut short for many participants due to a sudden taxi strike in Bilbao, leaving many to seek alternative, and not so quick transport to the Bilbao airport. During the conference, the newly-elected president of the EAPR, Dr S. Chiru announced that next the EAPR conference will take place in Romania in 2008. Finally, I would like to thank the BSPP Travel Fund for financial support towards attending this conference.
Paula Wilson, University of Helsinki, Finland
The 16th triennial conference of the association of potato research was held in Bilbao in the Basque country. This is a city that has re-invented itself from a run-down industrial town into a very ‘cool’ city, with the Guggenhein art gallery at its heart.
The Spanish potato industry supplies much of northern Europe during the winter months when fresh material is limited. Much of this is produced in the south of Spain and in the Ballearic and Canary Islands. In the Basque country much of the potato crop is grown for seed, particularly around Vittoria, which is a high plateau surrounded by mountains over 1000 metres in height. Due to the cooler climate at this altitude the aphid threat is reduced so much of the crop is grown for seed. Potatoes are also grown for the pre-pack market and one of the excursions visited the packing company UDAPA, which supplies 22,000 tonnes per annum.
The host organisation for the conference was NEIKER, which is run as a government agency for agricultural research. Much of its potato work focuses on breeding new varieties and virus detection and epidemiology. The president of the EAPR, Enrique Ritter, from NEIKER ensured that the content of the conference was interesting and took charge of the Rioja at the welcome party.
At the conference the key-note speakers focused on potato production in the future. Professor Askew, from CSL, discussed environmental issues associated with potato production. He suggested that the potato crop could have a number of damaging environmental impacts. Ware potatoes need large amounts of water and nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers, whilst a large number of sprays are required to control late blight and aphids. It is also clear that use of heavy machinery at both planting and harvest can result in soil compaction. He predicted a premium for potato production of potatoes grown with little damage. He pointed to progress made in Holland where total number of pesticide sprays have been reduced. The challenge for the future will be to produce potatoes of high quality but with a decreased risk to the environment and with fewer pesticide options.
On the second day the attention turned to the scientific presentations. One of my main interests is a disease called black dot, caused by Colletotrichum coccodes, which causes blemishing on tubers, which reduces quality. Since the last EAPR conference in Hamburg, 3 years ago, black dot has become an increasingly important problem in many countries in Europe. In Bilbao, there were 5 papers featuring black dot, 1 from Australia, 1 from Israel, 1 from USA and 2 from UK. In contrast, to the UK where inoculum of black dot is soil-borne, in both Israel and Australia infected seed is the main source. In Israel, where they are concerned about contaminating their ‘virgin’ soils with soil-borne pathogens they have done a lot of work surveying potato seed stocks from around Europe. Dr Leah Tsror, from the Agricultural Research Institute showed that the incidence of black dot on seed tubers was high on Dutch stocks and lowest on Scottish material. The opposite was found for powdery scab, where the incidence was highest on Scottish seed stocks. Dr Tsror has assessed a number of fungicides as seed and in-furrow treatments at planting. Products that reduced black dot included, prochloraz-Zn, azoxystrobin, chlorothalinol and fludioxonil. She has also found that treating the foliage with prochloraz and azoxystrobin both reduced the incidence of black dot. This is a practice that would not be recommended in the UK. Dr Neil Gudmestad, from North Dakota State University, USA, reported that yield losses could occur where potato foliage becomes infected with C. coccodes. In the Mid-West foliar infection occurs where storms blow sand and soil covered in inoculum from the soil into the foliar tissue. The result are symptoms which look similar to Early Blight, caused by Alternaria solani. He claims that if you look at these lessions on the leaves then you can find the characteristic microsclerotia within the lession. However, no such symptoms have been reported in the UK.
There were also a number of papers on common scab, caused mainly by Streptomyces scabies. In the UK, this disease is a major blemish disease, which causes unsightly scabs on tubers. In the UK, this disease has traditionally been controlled by are now required for water extraction this method of control is likely to have a diminished role in future. Research in Finland, presented by Dr Hiltunen, showed that under glasshouse conditions, the application of non-pathogenic Streptomyces spp to the soil could reduce the incidence and severity of common scab where soil was artificially inoculated with S. turgidiscabies. In the experiment potato boxes (1 x 1m) were filled with compost. Treatments including Mycostop (S. griseoviridis), applied twice to the soil, and an unidentified Streptomyces strain, applied 3 times to the soil, were compared with an untreated control. Although, these treatments were effective where low inoculum levels of S. turgidiscabies they were ineffective at higher concentrations.
Researchers from the ARVALIS-Intstitut du vegetal, France, reported on Midi-LISÂ® an on-line decision support system for blight control. This system is based on a model for French conditions. It was interesting to see that this package is widely used and in 2005 some 20,000 ha were treated based on this system. The system is set up on a website and weather and crop data are inserted. For a rapid response growers are alerted of blight risks by text messaging. It is claimed that this system reduced the number of sprays by 2 in a ware crop situation.
Other decision support systems (DSS) for late blight have been compared in Ireland. Dr Dowley, from Teagsc, compared a number of DSS, including NegFry, SimPhyt, ProPhy and Plant-Plus with plots, which received a 7-day routine spray programme, over a 3 year period. They found that number of sprays were reduced with the use of a DSS (NegFry – 54%, ProPhy – 10%, SimPhyt – 44% and Plant- Plus – 25%) compared with the plots which received the standard programme. However, despite the reduction in sprays there were no increases in foliar blight or yield losses reported with the DSS. In organic potato production the big debate at present is the use of Copper based products to control late blight. While copper fungicides are still being used in many countries, these products are toxic to soil and aquatic organisms. However, these products are likely to be prohibited by 2008, within the EU. So what are the options? Field trials done in France, by Dr Dubois, from the plant protection service, showed that dropping copper concentrations from 8kg to 4kg per hectare of product could be done without an increasing risk of late blight. However, none of the other reagents, including various plant extracts had any effect on disease development. It appears that our search for an alternative to copper continues, but time is running out.
Alex Hilton SAC Craibstone Estate, Bucksburn Aberdeen