5 December 1997

Rid Ouse of brown rot or growers may go bust, urges NFU

By Robert Harris

NFU officials are urging government to clear brown rot bacteria from East Anglias River Ouse, to avert the possibility of an irrigation ban in 1999.

Such a ban could put some potato growers out of business, warns Richard Watson Jones, chairman of the unions potato committee.

The river was found to be infected after checks were carried out following outbreaks of brown rot in two separate tomato glasshouses in Beds in September.

Mr Watson Jones said irrigation from the Ouse was likely to be allowed to continue next year, because the EU brown rot control directive, under which a ban could be implemented, was still under discussion. And although MAFF could impose its own ban, that seemed unlikely, he added.

But if no effort was made to remove the infection, and the brown rot directive came into force – which the government has said it will push for during its forthcoming presidency of the EU – surface irrigation could end.

"It depends on how waters will be designated as infected. We want a flexible system to allow us to assess the risk, then demarcate watercourses as necessary," he said.

"I am imploring the CSL (Central Science Laboratory) and the ministry to put all their efforts into cleaning up the Ouse as effectively as possible." That included more money for research and development, especially on chemical control, to rid watercourses of the brown rot host plant.

"If there is a surface irrigation ban it could make some potato systems unviable," he said.