Wild Flowers Could Help Protect Tatties

Strips of cornflowers, common vetch and yarrow have been sown in commercial seed potato fields near Montrose as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) trial.

The experiment is taking place on the AHDB’s strategic potato (SPoT) farm at Milton of Mathers under the supervision of potato specialist Eric Anderson of Scottish Agronomy, in a bid to find alternatives to insecticides and reduce aphid-carried viruses.

The work comes in the wake of the virus incidence in seed potato crops hitting a 20-year high in 2019, with similar issues arising this year.

The Montrose field trial was inspired by research at Rothamsted into integrating wild flowers into carrot fields and by work done in Switzerland into the complementary benefits for potatoes.

Mr Anderson said low-growing plants such as cornflowers measure the same height as the potato crops and at Milton of Mathers, 3m-wide strips of the wild flower mix were drilled between the tramlines, creating floral food resources and a refuge habitat that is attractive to hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds.

He said: “This will create corridors closer to the crop, increasing biodiversity in a move away from a monoculture system, with its high reliance of chemical controls and creating greater impact as the predators are closer to the pests.

“We are still refining, to assess whether the species sown and sowing dates have an impact on the value of the strips and whether it supports the types of natural enemies needed to control potato pests and to deliver them to the crop when needed.”

Milton of Mathers farmer Jim Reid pointed out the trade for Scottish seed potatoes is reliant on its reputation for virus health.

He said: “It is more important than ever to look at how we can use biology and targeted chemistry to keep disease at a minimum.

“There is a lack of a holistic approach to IPM which integrates both the traditional and modern tools.

“Through these trials we are exploring the roles biology, ecology and evolution play and how we can rethink aphid and potyvirus control on a commercial scale.”

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