AN INNOVATIVE farmers field lab tested heritage varieties of potato and found that all varieties, including newer breeds, performed well for yield and blight resistance. A taste test also found that all tasted good when cooked as chips and mash.
The Soil Association, an Innovative Farmers partner, hopes that highlighting the benefits of alternative potato varieties will help find alternative techniques to manage blight.
Ben Raskin, head of horticulture at the Soil Association said: “Late blight is likely to challenge all potato growers as conventional chemistry becomes more restricted. There are some systems and management strategies that can help, for instance agroforestry planting can slow the spread of the disease across a field, and plant tonics and stimulant can help boost the crops natural resistance.
“However these are limited and the reality is that most certified organic growers either top the crop (using a burner or a flail mower) when late blight arrives, or use copper to control its onset and spread.
“By raising awareness of different varieties amongst growers and consumers in this Innovative Farmers field lab we hope to find more natural answers to such a common and devastating problem as blight.”
The most dangerous current strain of blight is the 13_A2 and traditionally resistant varieties such as Cara and Lady Balfour are now no longer able to withstand the disease.
Breeding by the Savari trust and Agrico has helped increase the number of blight resistant varieties available but not all meet appearance and taste specifications.
The field lab involved a small number of growers across the UK (two growers in Gloucestershire and one in Scotland) as an introductory trial.
The group tested the performance of up to 11 varieties of potato against blight, and then performed a taste test to help convince consumers and retailers that different varieties can also be good to eat.
Andy Dibben of Abbey Home Farm was involved in the field lab. He said; “I have been growing blight resistant varieties for a while now and have seen categorical evidence that blight resistance can be achieved through good plant breeding.
Some of the Sapo varieties have had astounding blight resistance but have lacked a little in taste, however each time I try a new variety the taste gets better.
“Achieving great taste alongside blight resistance appears to be the real challenge for potato breeders. Field labs are a great way for farmers to find well trialled solutions to problems that affect their production, and crucially trials often involve testing techniques rather than products.
“Lots of research and development goes into new products as they can be sold for profit, less research seems to be done on using existing products and equipment in a different way as there is no commercial incentive and because it’s harder to sell a new technique than a new product. Field labs are great way of ensuring this kind of research progresses.”
Full results are available on the Innovative Farmers website and there are plans for further trials into taste and yield at Abbey Home Farm.
Raskin continued, “There are already so many varieties of blight resistant potato out there, it seems pointless to spend so much time and money developing GM versions of the same thing.
“Trials like this are generally cheaper, easier to run and less exclusive. I’d encourage any grower looking for an alternative to chemical sprays to get involved in the Innovative Farmers network.”
No one size solution for farm exports
BRITISH food exporters need to gain an understanding of consumer needs in different countries if the UK’s farmers are to fully reap the rewards of overseas trade, according to AHDB.
In its latest edition of the Horizon Brexit series, AHDB argues that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to unlocking export opportunities should be avoided and that we cannot rely on ‘Brand Britain’ alone to boost sales.
The report, focuses on international buying behaviours and looks at exporting from a consumer perspective. It highlights the need for industry to monitor and adapt to the needs of each marketplace to create more opportunities.
The study included responses from more than 4,500 consumers in nine countries – from key UK export markets in North America, Europe, Gulf States and Asia – around what motivates and drives them to choose the food they buy.
Among the key findings was that, while seven out of the nine countries surveyed said ‘quality’ was the most important factor, both China and Japan stated ‘food safety’ as critical in their food choices.
Christine Watts, AHDB chief communication and market development officer, said: “Concerns and priorities vary by market and many could benefit from tailored messaging to appeal to these different interests.
“For instance, in China and Japan food safety is critical. Communication to these markets needs to be tailored to meet the desires of consumers so they know more about the safety of the food they eat.”
The report also closely considers the impact of ‘British’ branding overseas and looks at some of the opportunities and challenges this holds in a post-Brexit world.
Steven Evans, AHDB consumer insight manager and author of the report, said: “The research looked to capture the reaction to ‘Brand Britain’ and understand objectively how other countries see us. We found that many consumers have not had direct exposure to British food products and, therefore, have not had the opportunity to build a firm view of their qualities.
“This highlights that exposure to products and clear branding is necessary to drive awareness and build brand reputation.”
Other key aspects from the report include how different sectors also have different drivers in buying behaviour. For example, while quality was important for both meat and dairy, price featured second in the list for meat while freshness was the second highest purchase motivator in the dairy industry.
Also, promoting the same meat cuts across all countries would not be beneficial for British exporters as lifestyles, tastes and food choices differ around the world.
AHDB International Market Development Director Dr Phil Hadley said: “Often, what we as a British consumer perceive as a good product message will not be relevant for all export markets.
“For example, the Chinese Sunday roast is not commonplace but Dong Po Rou (braised pork belly) is. Both hold a similar association as they both use larger joints but each fit very different meal occasions.
“We also know that a Chinese consumer is comfortable to view the whole journey from farm to fork. But it would be dangerous to assume that the same approach across all export markets will result in the same sales performance.
“A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t allow for customisation and adapting to meet specific domestic demands. It is critical that British food producers don’t make assumptions that their product has the same relevance across all markets.”
Rural areas vital for economies
RURAL areas are vital to national economies and addressing global challenges, according to the policy statement released at the 11th OECD Rural Development Conference held in Edinburgh.
The policy statement, which provides guidance to governments to support rural economic development, also declared that innovation will be critical to the future competitiveness and sustainability of rural economies. It also outlines the case for focusing on rural areas as engines of national prosperity and how policies should leverage this opportunity.
Jose Enrique Garcilazo, Head of OECD’s Regional and Rural Policy Unit, said: “Rural regions are not synonymous with decline or agricultural specialisation, but places of growth, opportunity and inspiration, yet rural is still not central to government policy. Rural areas have a key part to play in some of our major global challenges. They are best placed to develop new energy sources, to help sustain our natural environment and to ensure food security.
“In an increasingly interconnected world, opportunities are emerging to promote rural prosperity. Digitalisation will propel rural economies forward, and the conference has highlighted that supporting innovation in rural areas will be key to the future prosperity and wellbeing of rural regions.”
The policy statement identifies 10 key drivers of change predicted to influence the future of rural economies and communities and their potential to prosper, including additive manufacturing (for example 3D printing); decentralised energy systems; digital connectivity; the future of health; shifting values and preferences; drones; and driverless cars.
The statement also recommends that, in addition to prioritising rural innovation, a robust rural policy should place social, environmental and economic wellbeing at the forefront of policy decisions and take an integrated view across policy sectors to avoid one policy detracting from another.
The 2018 Conference, Enhancing Rural Innovation, was hosted by the Scottish Government and co-hosted by the European Commission and the UK, to provide a forum for key policy officials and academics from OECD member countries to engage and share ideas and experiences on rural policy.
It is the eleventh in the OECD Rural Conference Series, which has been held all over the world since its inception in 2002.
Prior to the main conference, a series of interactive sessions, led by the European Network for Rural Development, showcased exemplary projects and approaches already launched by rural communities to embrace 21st century challenges and opportunities.
Rural Wales in ‘the 4G Wilderness’
NEW DATA gathered by the CLA has shown what rural communities have suspected for a long time; that the mobile industry is willing to abandon rural areas to the digital wilderness.
Director Rebecca Williams says: “Our information has revealed that too few planning applications have been made for mobile phone masts in our rural counties to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural community.
“Latest research has shown that a county such as Powys – which has appallingly poor mobile connectivity at less than 3 per cent – has seen just 13 mast sites applied for in the past 12 months, yet urban counties such as Cardiff have seen as many as 62 applications. Even a rural county, such as Monmouthshire, close to the urban centres of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff, has seen just two mast applications.
“With 5G on the horizon in 2022, progress needs to be better – and Wales must not be left in the boondocks. The rural community must not be excluded. Farms and rural businesses lack the digital service they need to be competitive. We must remember that this is not about resident population numbers, since mobile communication should be available to everyone everywhere.”
In February, the CLA asked Ofcom to force reluctant mobile network operators to improve coverage in rural areas by imposing a legally binding coverage target on their operating licenses. It called for EE, O2, Vodafone and Three to be required to deliver 4G coverage to at least 95% of the UK geographic landmass on all networks by 2022.
Rebecca Williams continues: “Three years ago, we were told that coverage would be delivered in the countryside and yet rural communities are still waiting. In the same period the mobile industry has extracted concession after concession from UK Government Ministers. They have got the new legal powers they wanted, on the basis that they are a utility service.
“Now they must be forced to deliver the universal service that a utility operator provides. We expect government and the regulator to take a tough line on this, and if Ofcom won’t then Ministers must step in.”
The CLA has highlighted Ofcom’s failure to push mobile network operators to achieve universal coverage for consumers. It is calling on the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to review Ofcom’s statutory remit and confirm that the body should prioritise working towards universal, quality mobile coverage for consumers.
“The mobile operators have no market incentive to improve coverage in these rural areas. It is absolutely clear that the only way they will deliver the coverage the countryside needs is if they are forced to do so. However rather than pushing them to achieve universal coverage for consumers, Ofcom is setting soft targets for rural coverage. As a result rural consumers face inadequate service and lack of network choice for years to come.”
Further information can be found at www.cla.org.uk/4gForAll and Ofcom’s 700Mhz spectrum auction proposal.
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