Person holding potatoes in their hands

Innovation projects underway to benefit food and drink sector

Published: 09/09/2020

Two innovation projects are underway in the Highlands and Islands to develop new ways to support the growth of the food and drink sector.

Man standing in front of a red tractor
Jim Wilson, Managing Director at SoilEssentials Ltd

Angus based farming solutions company SoilEssentials Ltd is researching and developing ways to tackle the spread of potato cyst nematode (PCN), one of the most serious threats to Scotland’s potato growing industry.

The amount of land affected by one species of PCN (Globodera pallida) has been doubling every six to seven years. Once land is infected it can take 30 years before potatoes can be grown safely again.

SoilEssentials is working with a group of farmers as well Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, Scottish Agronomy Ltd, and McCain Foods GB Ltd as part of a Rural Innovation Support Service group to develop potential methods to control the potato pest.

The 12-month initiative will focus on a new soil sampling approach and land managers will be trained in how to protect the land bank through proactively managing PCN.

Jim Wilson, managing director at SoilEssentials, said:

“We are delighted to take part in this important R&D project, which focuses on addressing the challenge of PCN in the Scottish potato growing sector by proving and commercialising an integrated pest management (IPM) concept.

“It is critical in developing a system that will provide Scottish potato growers with a precision agriculture tool to manage their land bank for growing seed potato crops.”

In another project, Glasgow based Seawater Solutions Ltd, is exploring ways to help farmers on Scotland’s west coast to grow high value salt-resistant crops.

Last year the company successfully trialled the cultivation of saline crops on Ayrshire coastal farmland including samphire and sea-aster.

It is currently developing a project on the Glen Shiel Estate in Wester Ross in partnership with the estate and the Burton Property Trust.

The integrated seawater farming systems redevelop unused land into rich artificial wetlands to tackle problems such as coastal erosion, soil degradation and carbon emissions.

It provides the opportunity to grow high-value salt tolerant vegetables without using a drop of freshwater.

Seawater Solutions is working with the Universities of Strathclyde and Edinburgh and local community groups over the phase of the project to move the trial to develop fully operational seawater farms across Scotland.

Yanik Nyberg, director at Seawater Solutions, said:

“This project is about developing green economy employment and localised food networks with a strong ecosystems and community-based focus.

“We are looking forward to rolling out our saltmarsh farms across the Highlands and Islands and encourage any interested individuals and groups to get involved in this green initiative.”

Both projects received funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise (SE) through the Collaborative Innovation Fund, which closed in March.

The fund was supported by HIE and SE and formed part of the Make Innovation Happen initiative, aimed at innovations leading to new growth in the food and drink sector.

Elaine Jamieson, HIE’s head of food and drink, said:

“These projects are innovative, collaborative and entrepreneurial. They focus on working in harmony with the natural environment and are aligned to our ambitions for an inclusive and sustainable economy.

“Experience and evidence tell us that partnership working between businesses and with academics and other innovation providers stimulates fresh thinking and opens new opportunities. We really look forward to seeing the benefits of this work come to fruition.”

The Make Innovation Happen project is one output of a Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group set up in 2018 to explore biocontrol for PCN. The Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) connects farmers and land managers with the right people and helps them develop a viable, innovative project. For more information visit

Potato photo courtesy of Scene & Herd PR Ltd

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