Tattie head trio mash ideas to beat potato diseases

L-R: Stephen Lucas, Calum Johnston and Joe Speed. SRUC Graduates 2016
L-R: Stephen Lucas, Calum Johnston and Joe Speed. SRUC Graduates 2016

A trio of self-confessed ‘tattie-heads’ have mashed their creative ideas for the future to help beat some potato diseases.

And the three new graduates from the Aberdeen Campus of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have made the potato industry sit up and take notice of their degree dissertations.

They have been chipping away at hard-baked farming beliefs on the way things should be done to combat potato diseases and transfer the knowledge into industry.

Joe Speed and Stephen Lucas, both 20 and from Kirriemuir, graduated as Bachelors of Science in Agriculture Second Class Honours, at the recent graduation ceremony held at Bute Hall, University of Glasgow, alongside Calum Johnston (22), from Kinfauns in Perth, who received a BA in Rural Business Management with First Class Honours.

Joe has always had an interest in agriculture and for his dissertation worked on a project on Watery Wound Rot – an increasingly common disease that causes potatoes to rot in storage, particularly when harvested early in the season. He worked with McCain Potatoes and found differences between different varieties in their susceptibility to this ailment. He presented his findings at a growers’ event in Montrose in June. His research highlighted the important message to farmers - “don’t lift too early”.

He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed carrying out my dissertation with McCain. Like the whole SRUC degree course, I found it insightful and very interesting. I am hoping my findings can be put into practice – changing some of the historic ways of the industry – and making a difference to growers.”

Stephen is passionate about spuds after growing up on an arable farm growing potatoes. His dissertation project focused on trying to reduce Blackleg, a disease that causes valuable seed potatoes to rot in the field and in storage. He worked with Techneat Engineering on a commercial scale trail of a system which produces pulsed UV light - which could be attached to a roller table - to try and reduce Blackleg. He found that exposing seed tubers to UV light reduced blackleg in one stock, but not another.

He also collected a hat trick of prizes, including the prestigious Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland Silver Medal for the best student in his course.

He said: “Having grown up mainly with potatoes, my time at SRUC Aberdeen’s Craibstone Campus has greatly broadened my knowledge of the agricultural industry.”

Calum studied Rural Business Management, but his dissertation also had a potato theme as it centred on electronic communication for knowledge transfer in agriculture.