Our Key Partners: The James Hutton Institute

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

AHDB works closely with partners across Scotland, including research institutes, industry bodies and of course, farmers. In each issue of All About Scotland we will be highlighting one of those partnerships to explain more about how it benefits levy payers.

In this edition we are focusing on the James Hutton Institute, which we work with on potatoes, cereals and horticulture research.

Bridging the gap between science and the farm

“For us, AHDB bridges the gap between applied science and commercial practice,” James Hutton CEO Colin Campbell explained. “They are a critical partner for us both in terms of funding research, as well as working together to get what we have learned out to farmers so they can use it to improve their practices on farm.”

AHDB Head of Research and Knowledge Exchange Rebecca Geraghty agrees.

“We want to make sure the research we fund is relevant and applied, so it is vital we have a feedback loop between ourselves, the researchers and the farmers. That’s why knowledge exchange programmes like our monitor and strategic farms are so important, it’s there we can raise awareness of cutting edge research, and growers can highlight those problem areas where we should be focusing our efforts.

“We need to ensure that every pound of money we spend brings back genuine value to our levy payers, and we can’t do that without two way communication.”

Currently AHDB has over £2.3 million invested in projects at JHI which includes work on blight and blackleg, soil health, as well as the raspberry breeding programme, which has recently secured funding from the organisation for a further five years.

AHDB-funded research into blackleg

Blackleg (a serious bacterial disease of potatoes) has long been an issue for potato growers and recent AHDB-funded work at the James Hutton has led to a potential break though in how the disease spreads.

“We’re in quite a good position at the moment,” Professor Ian Toth, who leads the project, explained. “Blackleg has been a really intransigent problem for the industry over the years but now we have discovered that the disease can occur directly from the environment, rather than just from infected seed, we can start to look at how to manage your fields and irrigation to reduce the incidence of the disease.”

Ian has worked collaboratively with AHDB for many years now and sees the relationship as very much a two way street.

“We work together closely on projects,” Ian said, “and AHDB help keep us focused on what the industry needs. Working with AHDB also helps us connect us to the farmers we are doing the work for, through events and projects like the SPot farm.”

Breeding the best raspberry varieties

Nikki Jennings, who runs the raspberry breeding programme at the James Hutton Institute, also stresses the importance of sharing their findings with growers, noting that all the science and information about new varieties is shared in various ways including newsletters, factsheets and events.

The raspberry breeding programme, which AHDB has part-funded since 2002, is unique in the UK in that all UK growers can access and grow any of the varieties. The aim is to produce varieties that will suit the whole supply chain, are cheap to grow and of course, produce high quality tasty fruit.

Currently the Institute is testing a new variety which has the molecular marker for resistance to root rot, a major issue for commercial raspberry producers. Nikki hopes to see the as yet unnamed variety hitting supermarket shelves in 2020.

“We’ve been working on this variety for nearly ten years now and it’s performing really well,” Nikki said. “Not only does it appear to be completely resistant to root rot, it’s also a good sized tasty raspberry which should go down well with consumers.”

New avenues of work: the International Barley Hub

Like all good partnerships there are always new avenues to be explored, and Colin is keen that Hutton’s work with AHDB becomes ever more industry-led. One example of this is the International Barley Hub which aims to bring together scientific expertise on barley and translate that research into commercial benefits for growers and the supply chain.

For Rebecca it’s projects like these that really make the James Hutton Institute stand out.

“The Barley Hub is a fantastic project and very much a collaborative one. I remember one of the early meetings and we had representatives from lots of organisations, from across the supply chain, all working together to create something which can offer strong support to the Scottish barley sector.

“We’ve been closely involved right from the beginning and we’ll continue to work with the Hub as it develops, making sure it is always focused on industry needs.”

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of All About Scotland.

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