New, independently-run market research has revealed that growers are committed to growing potatoes in the future, despite the identified challenges of crop protection losses and increased disease and pest pressures.

The research, commissioned by BASF and carried out by Carol Willey, was presented at a BASF event to coincide with British Potato 2021 and represented the views of those who grow more than 11,367 ha of potatoes for fresh consumption, chipping, crisping and seed production.

The majority of respondents described potatoes as their main source of income, demonstrating the importance for specialist knowledge, infrastructure and market access. However, there were real concerns surrounding the fragmented knowledge of sustainable practices within the sector from half of those who responded.

Read more: BASF opens forum for potato growers

On average, 61% of respondents’ production was grown on contract, and whilst growers were keen to explore new contracts and increase their production area, there was real concern cited that the capital investment required to upscale would be difficult to justify.

Many growers also noted that buyers’ size specifications often limited potential yield and, as such, quality was more important than quantity, to deliver a strong return on investment.

Independent agronomist, Howard Hinds, who spoke at the event, said: “Growers have some real challenges ahead. The control of both blight and alternaria will be more difficult without mancozeb and whilst there are effective fungicides on the market, some are more vulnerable to a resistance breakdown.

“We have lost Vydate for nematode control, Linuron for weed control and Biscaya for aphids, and in the case of nematicides the alternatives are limited or are yet to be used widely. The fluctuating weather pattern is also allowing pests to survive milder winters making climate change a real concern," he pointed out.

“Whilst there are a wide range of IPM solutions available, from trap cropping to wildflower strips, cover crops and sampling for nematodes, the lack of potential research, with the loss of AHDB, could have real consequences for future innovation.”

The rise of more aggressive late blight strains is putting pressure on even the strongest blight fungicides on the market and the loss of more than 10 actives to potato growers in the last few years – and another 50 under threat in the future – makes new innovation vital.

It costs between £250m and £350m to bring a new active to the market, which can take over a decade of investment, research, and trials. That said, between 2022 and 2024, BASF said it planned to launch eight new products, demonstrating a strong commitment to the potato sector.

For late blight, BAS657 is set for approval in early 2022 and has two unique modes of action including a multisite. It has systemic mobility with recommendations for early application, four to five weeks after planting, during canopy growth.

“There is only one other systemic fungicide on the market that is not affected by resistance,” explained Paul Goddard, BASF's business development manager for specialities

“It works best when the plant is strong and growing, therefore early application is essential. It has an optimised 'syn-tec' formulation, allowing the actives to target infection and reduce selection pressure, playing a key role in anti-resistance management strategies.”

Eurofins and SRUC trials demonstrated that BAS657’s ‘top draw’ protection is on a par with current market standards, including Infinitio and Ranman Top.

Expected for approval in late 2021, Revysol (mefentrifluconazole) will now also be available for use in potatoes. The isopropanol-azole was first introduced to the market in 2019 for cereals and has since be developed to support disease control with early blight.

Growers will be able to apply up to three applications from mid-July, at a minimum of seven-day intervals from formation of basal side shoots to senescence, BBCH 20-97. BASF trials with the fungicide delivered an average blight reduction of 91.2%, compared to difenoconazole, which delivered 79.6%.

Nemaslug 2.0 is a new mollusc parasitic nematode (phasmarhabditis californica) but still has a comparable hosts spectrum to the original product, with a refined production process to increase yield, giving an improved continuity of supply.

A higher concentration on infective juvenile loading meets BASF’s wider objective of delivering sustainable crop protection products, with smaller packaging, reducing the plastic requirements by 32.5%.

Already approved and likely to be available for 2023 planting, Honesty (fluxapyroxad) is a tuber treatment with strong control of rhizoctonia, silver scurf, black dot, and promising activity against dry rot, gangrene and more.

Mr Goddard believed the new SDHI could be a game changer for the industry: “We are really excited about Honesty as it complements Allstar, which also has strong control of rhizoctonia in-furrow treatment. It’s mode of actions gives it mobility in the plant, giving maximum potential for control.

“It also offers growers with another alternative to their programme and has the potential to change the way the industry thinks about their crop protection.”

In addition to fungicides and tuber treatments, BASF will be bringing to market – subject to approval in late 2022 – a pre-emergence herbicide, BAS656 (dimethenamid-p), with a new mixer product mode of action and a year later, BAS480051, a biological for wireworm damage.

It will also be the first in Europe to launch Axalion, an insecticide developed in-house by BASF with no cross-resistance and a new mode of action. Expected in 2024, it will control piercing and sucking pests such as aphids, whitefly and thrips.

Read more: Perfecting Potatoes Together – a new podcast

BASF said it had been committed to research and development in the speciality sector for more than two decades, but a combination of a strong product pipeline and the launch of their new 'Perfecting Potatoes Together' initiative, is putting them as one of the leaders in the potato sector.

Commenting on their new approach, Sophia Sutherland, speciality campaign manager at BASF said: “The UK market loves a potato! Retail sales are worth more than £2.5bn, and the crop protection market value is circa of £55m.

“As an industry, we need to be doing everything we can to support growers and that includes accepting that soil will be moved and structure changed so we must look at providing information to support good management, before and after potatoes, to reduce field impacts.

“We also understand there are many challenges facing potato growers, and we know that these challenges need a combination of cultural and chemical solutions. By unifying growers, industry experts and BASF professionals we hope to understand the issues better and find solutions together,” added Sophia

The Perfecting Potatoes Initiative is a new platform where growers can find the latest information on sustainable potato farming, access podcasts and online webinars, host trials on their farm, receive agronomic advice from experts and access events and trial tours.