Research aims to reduce nematode threat to daffodils and seed potato sector

Concentrated on the east coast where 390ha are grown annually by the Grampian Growers co-operative, over 4,000 tonnes of daffodil bulbs are exported annually – and 60 million stems of these popular flowers are also harvested, split 60/40 between exports and UK retail.

But, in common with the country’s important seed potato sector, daffodils are increasingly under threat from the effects of plant parasitic nematodes otherwise known as eelworm – and a collaborative project involving both sectors is seeking to mitigate the spread of this pest which is becoming a serious threat to the future production of both crops.

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Backed by Grampian Growers and Scottish Agronomy alongside the James Hutton Institute, Harper Adams University and HL Hutchinson Ltd, a three-year research project will look at sustainable ways to effectively suppress these pests and other pathogens by using cover crops.

“Plant-parasitc nemotodes are microscopic and difficult to control because they live underground or inside plants,” said Eric Anderson, senior agronomist at Scottish Agronomy.

“Here in Scotland, we are seeing a rapid rise in land infected by plant parasitic nematodes, posing a very real threat to growers. Through this project we are looking for the most robust alternative solutions through Integrated Pest Management to secure the future of the bulb and potato growing industry.”

Anderson said the pests could seriously damage or even kill crops – but there was no widely available varietal resistance and only limited agrochemical options to treat the nematodes infecting narcissi, and some of those were facing an uncertain future.

Seed potatoes can only be grown on land which has been tested and shown to be free of the potato cyct nematodes – and in recent years growing infection levels across much of Scotland’s arable land have raised fears for the future for the country’s high health status for seed potato production.

But Anderson said that while both crops suffered from the effects of different eelworm, daffodil bulbs were relatively immune to the potato cyst nematodes (PCN) Globodera pallida and G. rostochiensis, – however roots and soil could still lead to the transfer of the infective bodies. of these pests.

And he said that as the bulbs could potentially act as a source of transmission into the potato sector, the presence of PCN cysts, alive or dead, posed a phytosanitary risk which could halt the export of valuable bulbs.

The field trials will look at the use of cover crops to reduce the infection levels – and evaluate naturally occurring brassica biofumigants and nematode trap crops which are ‘poor plant hosts’ that can significantly limit nematode multiplication and substantially reduce existing soil populations.

Grampian Growers Managing Director Mark Clark said: “The market is increasingly competitive and it’s essential that our yields and quality remain strong. The demand for nematode-free land for bulb and potato production at Grampian Growers becomes higher and more difficult each year.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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