SEED POTATO producer, Jim Reid, from Milton of Mathers farm, St Cyrus, near Montrose, joined AHDB’s strategic farm network as the new host SPot farmer in Scotland at the start of the year.

Mr Reid farms alongside his brother Ron and father Curly, on a mixed arable farm with around 80 hectares dedicated to potatoes. Partnering him in the SPot project over the next four years are Eric Anderson from Scottish Agronomy and Colin Herron from McCain, a company which has been involved with Scotland’s seed potato industry for more than 30 years, working with over 50 growers on a contract basis.

The Reid family has been supplying McCain since 1986 and all potato production at their farm is dedicated to providing the company with seed. As such, the Reids are members of the seed ‘Safe Haven’ scheme, a farm assurance scheme aimed at providing practical prevention against potato ring rot and safeguarding the future of Britain’s potato industry.

At Milton of Mathers, multiple studies on desiccation have been carried out over the last nine years. Mr Reid explained: “In the last decade we have been looking for a plan B for desiccation, we are happy to now have extra support from AHDB and we believe that with their help, we will find a solution, we hope to learn as much as possible from this project and share it with the rest of the industry.”

As part of the desiccation trials that will be carried out at the farm, different fertilizing regimes will be compared as well as the impact of cultivations.

Different aspects of seed potato sustainability will be investigated by the SPot farm, including storage, alternative energy sources and biosecurity protocols. Innovation and technology are other key objectives along with industry development, looking at health and safety, operator training, mental health and wellbeing and a community project with local schools. Soil health and climate change targets will also be on the agenda and it is anticipated that these will dominate discussions at SPot farm meetings.

AHDB knowledge exchange manager Claire Hodge explained: “We are just beginning our programme of trials at Milton of Mathers and over the coming years evaluations will include cultivations, seed spacing, storage and seed treatment, nutrition, sustainable PCN strategies, alternative methods to control PVY and desiccation options post-diquat.”

Planting at Milton of Mathers farm began in early May when Mr Reid and Mr Anderson planted 29.5 hectares with CV Daisy in plots. Different levels of nitrogen have been applied and management strips on desiccation have also been planted along with cover crop strips to encourage biodiversity and natural predators to aphids. An area of spring barley has also been planted around the edge of the field to act as a purge area. This will encourage non colonising aphids carrying PVY to feed on the cereal crops rather than spread the virus to the potato crop.

Ms Hodge added: “We will also be looking at different aspects in the management of producing seed potatoes. We hope that the outcome of the project will be to challenge the perception of individual growers and their current understanding, asking them if what is being done is the way forward for sustainable production. Answers to many essential questions facing the seed potato industry will be provided and leave some of the more commonly used chemicals and methods behind.”