26 March 1999

PCN losses prompt protocol

CLAIMS of up to £200,000 for potato cyst nematode damage have prompted an industry drive to establish a sampling and analysis protocol this spring.

Growers will be asked to sign a disclaimer if they go against a consultants advice.

"The amount of trouble suddenly appearing and the size of the claims involved stimulated this," says protocol author and disputes specialist Barry Chapman of Spa Crop Consultants, Woodhall Spa, Lincs.

The need for a protocol to protect growers from poor practice and distributors of nematicide from litigation is clear. Claims have reached £200,000, he says.

"In one case a distributor test indicated a zero pcn egg count. The farmer then suffered losses which he put at £42,000 over about 24 acres. When a valuer tested the fields for pcn the result came back high."

Whether the original laboratory test or distributor sampling was at fault is not clear. The case was settled out of court.

The GPS testing standard is one sample per hectare, made up of a minimum of 30 cores. Con-ventional W-type walked samples should be made up of at least 50 cores from a maximum of 4ha (10 acres). Both samples should weigh at least 1kg (2.2lb) and be sent whole, sealed and labelled to the lab.

"Growers should check the sampling and analysis is up to the protocols. One firm had been using lorry drivers to do the testing," he notes.

Advisors adhering to the protocols cannot predict potential yield losses and must explain results to the grower. Both parties sign to say that has been done. If the grower plans to ignore advice to either re-test or treat with nematicide, he must sign a disclaimer.

Profarmas Peter Ingram regards the protocol as a minimum standard. "Our own standards are quite a long way ahead of it."

He advocates sampling last seasons potato fields now to help identify low populations. "It is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The time to do that is before populations decline. Any hot spots can then be checked prior to the next crop." &#42

PCNPROTOCOL

&#8226 Aims to prevent loss claims.

&#8226 Sets minimum standards.

&#8226 Grower to sign disclaimer if ignores advice.

&#8226 No yield loss forecasts.