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Compost is new weapon in potato pest fight

The compost could help potato growers deal with PCN.
The compost could help potato growers deal with PCN.

Angus farmers are at the forefront of efforts to tackle the growing problem of potato cyst nematode (PCN) which is having a multi-million-pound impact on the Scottish potato industry every year.

As chemical options are withdrawn from use, a group of producers and researchers have turned their attention to biocontrol methods such as a chitin-rich compost made from a substance that occurs naturally in shellfish.

Brechin-based Martin Cessford, of Angus Horticulture, developed the compost and is currently trialling it on a PCN-scheduled field – one which has been taken out of production due to PCN – on his Whanland Farm. The impact of the compost on PCN infestation is being monitored by a research station in Belgium.

Mr Cessford said: “Dr Andy Evans of SRUC got dispensation to use seashells from food waste 12 years ago and in six years the fields were clear.

“We know it enhances the flora in the soil, we know it improves the soil, we just need to prove it.”

The group is also working with the Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS), led by Soil Association Scotland, along with precision farming firm SoilEssentials, Scottish Agronomy and Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) to improve soil sampling to help farmers and agronomists decide on the best measures to take.

SoilEssentials managing director Jim Wilson said: “We use high intensity sampling to locate the PCN nematodes. It gives us a foundation – unless you know where the problem is and how big it is, you can’t make a plan to tackle it.”

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