News Potatoes

EU countries sound alarm: phytophthora strikes

June 11, 2024 - Niels van der Boom

The situation feared last winter has indeed come true. Season 2024 has started with a very high phytophthora pressure in potatoes in Europe. At the end of May, the European organization Copa-Cogeca already called for an EU action plan for phytophthora. This starts with the introduction of new crop protection products.

A history lesson quickly teaches people how harmful phytophthora can be. Although the current situation is not as dire as during the Irish famine in the nineteenth century, the agricultural sector warns of the disastrous effects that 'phytophthora infestans' can have on potato crops. According to Copa-Cogeca, this disease costs the sector €900 million annually.

EU Action Plan
On the International Day of the Potato, May 28, the organization called for launching a Europe-wide action plan to combat phytophthora. With the arrival of new mutations, aggressive strains can rapidly develop in a crop, leaving growers who stick to their standard spraying schedule disappointed. In the Netherlands as well, the Taskforce phytophthora calls on growers and the entire potato sector to pull out all the stops against the dreaded disease.

Phytophthora has already been found in many places in the Netherlands. The disease pressure is high due to the presence of a lot of potato storage and a latent infection in the seed potatoes, causing plants to suddenly become sick. Potato growers are on top of it with field sprayers and have already driven through the crop several times early in the season. Especially in the early planted potatoes, the situation is tense.

Fungus Strikes
In Germany, advocacy group DBV and potato organization Unika also call for vigilance against phytophthora. There, too, growers are facing very high disease pressure. A combination of moist and warm weather is ideal for disease spread. In Poland, the IOR-PIB research institute reports a very early infestation in potatoes. This is about two to three weeks earlier than usual. This is despite a long dry period. Thunderstorms with heavy rain, combined with high temperatures, have created ideal conditions for the fungus. Damage from the Colorado beetle is also reported.

The European potato production - and thus the entire chain - is threatened by phytophthora, according to Copa-Cogeca. This is mainly due to the lack of effective crop protection products. Especially after resistance has occurred in recent years against two important active substances. 'The grower's toolbox needs to be refilled,' says Olaf Feuerborn of Unika. 'It is up to all parties in the chain to ensure this.'

New Measures Required
Copa-Cogeca adds that both short and long-term measures are needed to secure the European harvest. Think of more research into products and resistant varieties, whose genes are now often broken. It calls for not banning existing products and working hard on broad-spectrum fungicides that can combat the rapidly evolving fungus. Growers can also take action by covering waste heaps, combating potato storage, and trying to work as cleanly as possible.

Niels van der Boom

Niels van der Boom is a senior market specialist in potatoes and other soft commodities at DCA Market Intelligence.

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