Change should be on the way for seed potato growers struggling to tackle potato cyst nematode (PCN) following a co-ordinated plan to address the ongoing epidemic in Scotland.

Of the two species present in Scotland, Globodera rostochiensis is largely under control whilst the area of land recorded as infested with G. pallida – mostly in Angus – is increasing two-fold every 6-7 years. If this level of increase is allowed to continue, experts believe it could prohibit the production of seed potatoes on PCN-free land in as little as 30 years.

"We've managed to keep control of G. rostochiensis, but we've seen an unrelentless rise in G. pallida and if we don't do anything about it over the next rotation or two, we could have a very, very serious problem indeed," Dr Philip Burgess, the lead potato consultant and researcher for, a partnership of SRUC, JHI and SASA, told the SACAPP Scottish Potatoes in a Big World conference.

"Plant Heath Centre – at the request of the Scottish Government and the minister – has pulled together a working group involving scientists, growers, advisors, trade bodies, and agronomists to find out how, we should tackle this as an industry, which in turn has resulted in the formation of four sub groups and a plan of activities going forward," added Dr Burgess.

Areas of activity that have been proposed over various time scales have also been divided into four sections which include a knowledge exchange programme to allow the industry to better understand and control PCN throughout the entire supply chain.

The group is also looking at how the epidemic can be managed at present and how to preserve the land base for future generations.

"Government, growers and industry needs to recognise the investment required to tackle this problem as it's not a short-term issue that can be fixed in a couple of years. It needs to carry on for a long, long time," said Dr Burgess.

"PCN control for the seed sector and rest of potato growers in Scotland, should be on the way subject to agreeing a co-ordinated plan from government and the availability of funding.

"We have a co-ordinated report that brings together all the activities we want. All we need to do now is put some figures behind it as to how much it will cost."

He added that a ‘special status’ for seed land and ways in which that land is kept free from PCN through various incentives is also being looked at.

The control of ground keepers would move up the agenda too with surveillance and land owners being incentivised to do more to help control the spread of the disease.

Other methods that are being looked at include protocols to allow for the retesting of land after PCN failures along with the development of new and improved IPM programmes to control the epidemic.

It is also hoped that new potato varieties that are either resistant to PCN alongside some tolerance to infection will be developed.