Profiting from potatoes will be the focus for everyone attending British Potato 2009, held at the Yorkshire Event Centre in Harrogate on 25-26 November.
The two main halls, along with much of the surrounding outside space, will witness the country's largest gathering of potato machinery dealers, seed breeders, retailers, merchants, processors, research authorities, agronomy and field-staff specialists, growers and industry representatives.
Organised by the Potato Council and sponsored by Branston, British Potato 2009 is the key biennial gathering for the industry.
"With many exhibitors increasing their stand space and some new companies joining trusted favourites, we're advising visitors to plan their day carefully," says Potato Council head of communications Dr Rob Clayton.
A hotline for advance tickets is available so visitors can book ahead and fast-track past the inevitable registration queues, Clayton notes.
In a prominent position at the entrance to Hall Two will be the Potato Council stand. "Whether it's market information, levy-funded research, seed and export news, storage tips or consumer trends you're after, we have been working hard to ensure a wealth of resources will be available on the stand."
These resources are now more accessible than ever, notes Clayton, thanks to some changes that have taken place on the website (www.potato.org.uk). He adds: "We're inviting levy-payers to 'join the e-volution'.
"On the stand visitors will be able to test-drive the new online initiatives, which are designed to make it easier for people to find and learn new ways to stay competitive.
"A visit to the stand is a good opportunity to meet the new faces on the Potato Council team, discuss priorities and make sure you have your say as an important British industry shapes up and manages current challenges."
For many, the social side of the event is just as valuable and this is as strong as ever, assures Clayton. The industry dinner takes place on the evening of 25 November at the Majestic Hotel in central Harrogate.
"Despite increasing capacity every year the dinner always sells out - and 2009 is no exception," Clayton says. The dinner is also the where the prestigious British Potato Industry Award will be presented to an individual recognised for his or her outstanding contribution to the British potato industry.
A full programme of seminars will keep visitors fully briefed of the latest industry developments.
Seminar sessions target key issues
The Potato Council's technical seminars, at the centre of its stand, will bring visitors the latest research-related news and developments from the country's leading authorities.
The seminars will look at blackleg, potato cyst nematode, energy use, grower collaborations and marketing.
New blackleg threat
One of the hottest topics for debate will be the major new disease threat currently referred to as Dickeya solani.
Like "traditional" blackleg (Pectobacterium atrosepticum) it causes plants to wilt and tubers to rot, but appears to be more aggressive and causes damage in a wider range of conditions and at lower bacterial loadings.
"We are already hearing of findings in some ware crops in Britain," says Potato Council head of seed and export Mark Prentice. "The fear is that its apparent ability to cause problems in both warm and cooler conditions could make it a far worse problem than the blackleg we know and have managed."
The pathogen has only been identified as a separate species in the past six months and has yet to be formally named. It is a close relative of Dickeya dianthicola, previously known as Erwinia chrysanthemi, which has caused damage to crops on the Continent since the 1970s. But unlike D. dianthicola, the new pathogen thrives under a range of conditions, says Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) head of diagnostics and analytical services Dr Gerry Saddler, who will be presenting the seminar at British Potato 2009.
"P. atrosepticum, the form of blackleg most growers are aware of, is well-suited to the cooler, damper conditions in the UK, while D. dianthicola tends to be more of a threat in warmer years.
"D. solani is certainly adapted to warmer temperatures but can also cause disease under cooler conditions typically found in Britain. Symptoms have been observed under Scottish conditions and the disease, if it was to become more widespread, would damage our seed exports."
Observations from the Netherlands indicate that, once established, the new species will rapidly displace others and take over as the principal cause of wilting and blackleg-like symptoms in potato crops. Very low levels of infection on the seed - the principle source of disease transmission - will develop into full-blown symptoms, warns Saddler.
According to Prentice, growers must think very carefully about where they source their seed. The best way for growers to keep this disease out of their crops is to buy Safe Haven-accredited seed, he urges.
Prentice is keen for seed growers in particular to use British Potato 2009 to help establish an adequate defence strategy. "The high health of British seed is a huge selling point. At the heart of our high health status is the Safe Haven Certification Scheme. Some 60 per cent of the British seed area is in the scheme and seed growers who are members of the scheme can now have the logo printed directly onto their seed bags. It is important that we continue to raise awareness of the plant health benefits that Safe Haven seed brings."
Potato cyst nematode
According to survey information, more than 60 per cent of potato land in England and Wales is infested with potato cyst nematode (PCN), predominately Globodera pallida.
A new EC PCN Control Directive is set to be implemented next July, ex-tending controls to all ware crops for the first time.
"The key aspect about the new PCN Control Directive is that it applies to every grower, not just seed producers," says Potato Council head of R&D Mike Storey. It also includes farm-saved seed for the first time.
The directive requires 0.5 per cent of the total potato-growing area in each member state to be sampled for infestation each year. This is approximately 500ha in England and Wales, which will be tested by the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA), and 100ha in Scotland, which will be tested by SASA.
Any field that tests positive will have to be registered as infested and will fall under an official control programme.
The new directive makes PCN more of a challenge than ever, so every tool possible should be used to control it, Storey adds. The PCN model, developed by the Scottish Crop Research Institute is available on CD-ROM.
"In the past, too much emphasis was put on protecting yield and we have largely ignored what has happened to the PCN populations to our detriment," says Storey. "We need to put more emphasis on managing populations and the model helps with that."
New results suggest potato growers could make huge savings on storage costs. Data from 33 monitored potato stores shows average energy use was 78kWh per tonne - equivalent to £5 per tonne. But the most efficient stores out-performed the poorest by an average of up to four times and up to 10 times on occasions.
"We're learning more about ways to reduce energy use and often find it is one of the easiest ways to save costs," says Adrian Cunnington of Sutton Bridge Experimental Unit (SBEU).
Modifying agronomy to maximise the marketable fraction of a crop is the focus of the Potato Council's Grower Collaborations project, which has taken decades of Potato Council-funded research at Cambridge University Farm and put it into practice on five prominent potato farms over the past three seasons.
Each farm's standard agronomy approach was pitched against a modified husbandry programme developed at Cambridge University Farm to assess the true potential and build grower confidence, notes the farm's David Firman. Data from the Potato Council business-improvement programme shows marketable yield is the factor that does most to decide profit from loss.
Consumer buying habits are changing, with people planning meals better, seeking out offers and wasting less. But younger consumers are also eating fewer potatoes than their parents.
Adjusting marketing strategies accordingly is essential, says Potato Council head of marketing Caroline Evans.
Over the summer a successful campaign encouraged mothers with young children - a key target group - to cook more with potatoes, while the autumn's focus is on ensuring young professionals understand that potatoes are versatile, convenient, filling, tasty and the healthiest carbohydrate.
Tickets to British Potato 2009 are available from www.potato.org.uk/bp2009 or through the ticket hotline (0844 557 2808). Tickets are £14 each. Savings of up to 40 per cent are available for group bookings.