Over 40 potato growers and agronomists met at AHDB Potatoes’ Welsh Potato Day near Haverfordwest to exchange technical knowledge aimed at producing the perfect crop.

Pembrokeshire is renowned nationally for producing high-quality potatoes using an eco-friendly farming system, where potatoes are usually grown in rotation with grassland. This method has many benefits including maintaining healthy and nutritious soil, but the grassland is attractive to wireworm, a pest that causes damage to potato crops.

Wireworms, the larvae of click beetles (Elateridae), live for several years in the soil, and can drill deep holes into potato tubers. Left untreated, this can leave a potato crop completely unsaleable resulting in big losses for the grower.

Puffin Produce, a Pembrokeshire potato company, has helped sponsor a PhD student at Swansea University to conduct research on managing the pest.

Ben Clunie addressed the event on the various biological ways of tackling wireworm that he has studied during his first year. These include using natural enemies such as fungi and nematodes, essential oils and pheromone traps.

Dr Anne Stone, knowledge exchange manager for AHDB Potatoes, said: “Dealing with wireworm requires an all-round approach. As well as Ben’s talk, we invited Graham Tomalin of Vegetable Consultancy Services, who added to the topic with his experiences in East Anglia. He recommended inspecting the seed potatoes after a few weeks of growth, since these tend to attract wireworm. If there is damage to these mother tubers the crop should be lifted early before the daughter tubers are attacked in September.”

Richard Cogman of British Sugar also spoke at the event about the use of Limex.

Dr Stone said: “Farmers usually avoid adding lime to land in potato rotations, thinking that it could worsen common scab caused by Streptomyces scabies. Richard gently hinted that this belief could be an old wives’ tale and that an independent trials company has applied Limex in the rotation before potatoes and it appears to reduce rates of common scab, giving the glowing smooth skin that attracts consumers.”

Stephen Mathias, Puffin’s head of field services, added: “We are grateful to AHDB for organising this annual Knowledge Exchange event in our part of the UK. A wider range of pests and diseases are continually challenging potato growers and the armoury to combat them is unfortunately getting smaller. Therefore we need to keep up to speed with all technical developments and this meeting is a very good way of helping that process.”

Welsh Potato Day is an annual event, this year attendees also heard results from trials AHDB’s Strategic Potato Farms in England and Scotland. These farms, part of a network of 46 strategic farms across all sectors, have compared different techniques for cultivation, nitrogen fertiliser and pest and weed control.

Growers can look forward to an update on these issues next year. If advice is needed in the meantime, Dr Stone can be contacted on anne.stone@ahdb.org.uk