MAJOR PLAYERS in Scotland's seed potato industry, as well as myriad public sector organisations and the Scottish Government, are teaming up to fund new research into the devastating crop disease, blackleg.

According to Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), blackleg caused the downgrade of 8% of Scottish seed crops in 2011. The disease spurs the soft rot of potatoes and can even kill off entire potato plants.

Scotland currently produces 75% of the UK's seed potatoes. A sector with a retail value of £4 billion, and a domestic worth of £167 million, increased seed potato disease could wreak havoc upon Scottish farmers and destroy local economies.

In addition to the Scottish Government, the £242,000 research project has been sponsored by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, with McCain Potatoes Ltd, Greenvale AP, Cygnet Potato Breeders Ltd, Agrico UK Ltd, APS BioControl Ltd, HZPC, Caithness Potatoes Ltd, Branston Ltd, and Techneat Engineering also supporting the study.

The research, which starts next mnonth, will primarily examine the initial causes of blackleg, as well as methods of disease management. It follows another successful study carried out for AHDB and Scottish Government between 2013 and 2016.

Organisations including James Hutton Institute, SAC, Fera Science Ltd, SASA, BioSS and Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research will each contribute to the study.

AHDB senior crop protection scientist Sue Cowgill said: “We hope that by determining the impact of post-harvest practices such as storage, grading and handling practices on the contamination of tubers we can set a platform for an industry-wide approach to tackling this disease."