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Bridging the gap between potato growers and scientists

The Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm programme is a network of potato growers throughout the UK hosting scientific research on their farms, paid for by a £1.5m annual R&D investment fund.

To ensure the research AHDB funds has the biggest impact and benefit for the potato industry, they work to connect growers with researchers and scientists with initiatives like their Strategic Spot Farms. By bridging the exchange of ideas and knowledge, they can invest your levy in cutting-edge research that directly responds to short, medium and longer-term needs - keeping the industry resilient for the future.

AHDB spoke to scientists at leading UK potato R&D organisations about the importance of their research of connecting with growers and the potato industry through the AHDB’s research and knowledge exchange programme.

Mark Britton, Syngenta UK:
"The Syngenta Potato Science team highly values the work of AHDB and fully appreciates its value to the potato industry."

"The SPot farm initiative ensures the research undertaken by AHDB is more closely aligned to growers’ real-life situations than ever before. The work gives a truly independent evaluation of products and a testing platform that helps to shape the way Syngenta develops new ideas for the market that are best suited to growers’ requirements."

"Participation of AHDB specialists in the Syngenta Potato Science Live events over the past decade has repeatedly shown their depth of knowledge in key topics for the industry. Its ongoing R&D initiatives continue to address topical agronomy issues and challenges, such as desiccation, blight, Alternaria and storage, to provide practical solutions."

"AHDB acts as an important hub of information exchange across the industry that has been pivotal in implementing agronomy developments for growers, such as seeking an effective solution to desiccation decisions and supporting work with regulatory authorities. Its role as a cohesive voice of the industry remains a valuable asset for growers."
Marc Allison, NIAB CUF

Marc Allison, NIAB CUF

Stuart Knight and Marc Allison, NIAB CUF:
"NIAB CUF has worked closely with AHDB Potatoes over many years and has developed and maintains a vital research and knowledge exchange capability. In particular, the capacity and expertise to link soils, crop physiology and agronomy is notable."

"Recent work has developed fast-track protocols to place new varieties into their nitrogen groups, which is essential for their effective commercialisation."

"Similarly, long-term, multi-partner projects are looking at potato production in the context of soil health and rotations. AHDB’s Strategic Potato (SPot) Farm initiative has been an effective way to engage the industry with current research and to demonstrate solutions to on-farm problems, such as novel methods of crop desiccation."

"AHDB funding has provided a vital stepping stone between “blue-skies” research and on-farm practice. This linkage will be essential in the future if the UK potato industry is to remain competitive in a changing political and environmental context."

"AHDB has also been a source of funding that allows unbiased research to be put into the public forum where it can be utilised by growers and agronomists, the importance of which should not be underestimated. It is evident that a reduction or removal of AHDB funding could have a large, negative effect on this capacity and the impact and innovation it delivers to the whole of the potato supply chain."

"Recovering lost research and knowledge exchange capacity within a sensible timeframe would be very difficult."

"Much of the work supported by AHDB fills important niches, often requiring relatively small amounts of money, which are not supported by other funders. Equally importantly, AHDB support can often leverage much greater sums from UKRI and charities for underpinning science."

"A removal or major reduction of funding for potato research and knowledge exchange activities would have a severe impact on the UK’s capacity to respond to the current and future challenges facing UK potato production and its supply chain. The potato sector is faced with multiple threats including climate change (potential water shortage and increased virus levels) and the removal of crop protection products affecting, amongst other factors, crop desiccation and storage."

"In the longer-term, withdrawal of research funding would result in a reduction in the environmental and economic sustainability of UK potato production. Effective crop storage is also of critical importance to potato supply chains, and this is an area where AHDB investment has been fundamental."
Blair McKenzie, University of Dundee

Blair McKenzie, University of Dundee

Blair McKenzie, University of Dundee:
"Support from AHDB, either to scientists with a background in agriculture or by giving context to those from non-agricultural backgrounds, is and has been important in providing perspective to regional and national government policy. The importance of support in this way from AHDB is often not understood or poorly appreciated."

"Through working with Spot farmers and through the Monitor Farm, I came to understand the soil management issues that were of concern to potato growers. It became obvious that the practical problems of soil compaction and managing wet soils were important."

"In response, I have worked with international colleagues to adapt to the “Terranimo” soil compaction model. This is a practical online tool that allows anyone to understand the risk of soil compaction and what steps can be taken to minimise the risk."

"The model is simple to use and allows scenario testing for the risk of compaction with, e.g. comparing tyre types and pressures and what difference the soil being wetter makes to the risk."

"Over many years, support from AHDB has enabled me to engage in a wide range of knowledge exchange activities, from presentations at large events like British Potato and Potatoes in Practice, to direct discussions at AHDB events. Without the support of AHDB, most of this research and these communication activities would not have been possible."
Professor Ian Toth, James Hutton Institute:
"When rare opportunities come up for very large grants from other funders, such as our recently successful Bacterial Plant Diseases Initiative worth £2.1 million, our AHDB-funded work over the years has been critical in allowing us to apply for and secure this funding. This is important not just for us as scientists but for the industry as a whole."

"AHDB’s role in the knowledge exchange part of this grant and their help to critically evaluate the research in terms of user relevance has been essential to the grant’s success."

"I regularly interact with the industry through AHDB meetings and webinars and was recently given the British Potato Industry Award (2020) for my efforts. It is without question that this award would not have been possible without ongoing financial support from AHDB for projects, regular AHDB organised events and their critical input into the user relevance of our scientific plans and outputs."

"I have no doubt at all that without AHDB Potatoes and their role in linking science and industry this relationship, for me but also many other scientists, will fall away hugely and we will all be much worse off as a result."