'Allotment amateurs' are making potato blight worse

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With potato crops plagued by blight following the wettest summer on record, the UK’s commercial potato growers have blamed “allotment amateurs” for making a bad situation worse.

Allotments and gardens represent a very small total area of potato cultivation compared with the 160,000 hectares in commercial production.

However, small plots were responsible for a “disproportionate amount of overall blight pressure” in warm, wet seasons such as 2012, claimed Potato Council corporate affairs manager Maria Ball.

Potato crops are prone to ‘late blight’, the spread of which is airborne and relies on periods of warm, wet weather, known as ‘Smith periods’. This year saw the highest number of Smith periods since monitoring began in 2003 - a total of 10,069 compared with 4,441 in 2011.

As well as “a lack of understanding of what late blight is, and how small infections can have far-reaching effects on commercial crops”, Ball said there was also “a lack of effective control available to allotment holders.

Potato Council chairman Allan Stevenson added: “People should be encouraged to grow their own vegetables to learn about the origins of their food, but the blight risk is real, and it would be preferable if people bought healthy, well-produced potatoes from their retailer, rather than grow their own.”

The Potato Council has been working with major horticultural institutions including The Royal Horticultural Society, Garden Organic and the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners to produce a factsheet to give advice and guidance for smaller growers.

The Council has also recruited ‘blight monitors’ to check on late blight development in commercial crops as well as allotment areas.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Utter rubbish, of course the potato council want everyone to buy from retailers, although poor quality and no choice puts us allotmenteers off, how patronising to say " of course, people should learn where their vegetables come from" what does this woman think we are?? We are a very responsible lot, thankfully we do not have the chemicals available as professional farmers do, that is the whole point!

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  • We need to clarify why there is a problem with potato blight this year.
    The RHS would suggest that the high price of spuds and low yields is due to late planting in May/June instead of April; low light levels in June; flooding damage; high levels of blackleg due to wet weather on seed crops last year and late lifting due to difficulty of getting machinery onto the wet soil leading to low quality tubers with limited storage potential
    We agree that it is true that more blight has been reported from allotments but this, we would suggest, is because many allotment growers have become registered blight scouts for the British Potato Council and more eyes mean more reports of course. It is also important to recognise that there are few allotments near the big commercial producers and so the possibility of spread is very limited.
    We respectfully suggested that actually most inoculum originated on potato farms.
    Scare stories and attributing blame like this does not help anyone - especially when it is factually untrue.

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