19 November 1999

Brown rot in Northants crop is confirmed

AN outbreak of potato brown rot has been confirmed in a crop of potatoes grown in Northants.

It is the first case in Britain for four years and comes only months after new Europe-wide control moves involving systematic surveys and specific control and eradication measures came into effect.

Caused by a bacterium, brown rot can seriously damage plants rendering the tubers unmarketable, and MAFF has now placed the affected farm under official restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease.

A MAFF spokesman said some reports had suggested that contaminated irrigation water from the nearby Willow Brook could be the source.

But independent microbiologist Tom Stones said: "This is very serious. To say it is caused by irrigation is too simple. You need to look at what seed has been used in that area.

"Another fear is ware coming from brown rot infected countries, being processed and packaged in this country and the effluent washed into the sewage system."

Mr Stones expressed concerns about checks on seed and ware potatoes being brought into the country.

Richard Watson-Jones, chairman of the NFUs potato committee, said he was concerned for the financial implications for the grower placed under restriction and added that it was vital to ensure all waterways were clear of the infection.

The two previous UK outbreaks occurred in Thames Valley in 1992 and 1995. It also caused outbreaks of disease in tomatoes in Beds in 1997 and 1998. &#42