Phytophthora management in potato cultivation - an example of a complex social-ecological system

F.C.A. Pacilly, J.C.J. Groot, Gert Jan Hofstede, E. Lammerts Van Bueren

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstract


Phytophthora infestans (late blight) is one of the most important diseases in potato (Solanum tuberosum) production and is responsible for major losses in yield. Because of its short life cycle and spore dispersal by wind, a late blight epidemic can spread over large regions. Furthermore it can reproduce sexually which increases its virulence. We present a research project that will focus on the Netherlands, which has a very high potato density and combined with climatic conditions favourable for late blight, frequently experiences high pressure of the disease. A major element in prevention of plant disease is the use of resistant cultivars. Recent research insights in the spatial epidemiology of Phytophthora show that advances in reduction of the disease pressure can be achieved by spatial arrangement of resistant cultivars at field to regional scales [1]. Resistant cultivars are developed by private companies that aim for rapid widespread market penetration. Unfortunately, when resistant cultivars came to be more widely used, the selection of Phytophthora strains with compatible virulence genes increased and as a result resistance of several genes has been broken. Additional resistance management measures are needed to protect resistance genes in new varieties, which are being produced at great public and private cost. In this project the potato-Phytophthora host-pathogen system is analysed as a model system to study management and governance of crop-disease interactions. Data was collected by in-depth interviews with farmers, breeders and experts to identify current Phytophthora management strategies and the factors decision making and and Phytophthora epidemiology. It was found that the use of resistant cultivars in Phytophthora management is strongly related to the application of fungicides and the removal of infection sources. Both have a large effect on Phytophthora epidemiology and the overall infection pressure on resistant cultivars. Also the availability of fungicides strongly reduces the need to use resistant cultivars in crop protection. Furthermore, farmers, traders as well as breeders seem reluctant to embark on spatial strategies for fear of transaction costs and reduced autonomy in cultivar choice in a context where potato traders and packers are dominating cultivar requirements to a large extent. Since the use and effectiveness of resistant cultivars in Phytophthora management depends on interactions between people through social networks, as well as between plants and pathogens through disease epidemiology, it represents a social-ecological system. Such systems are driven by social and biophysical processes that interrelate and interact across multiple temporal and spatial scales and are characterized by nonlinear dynamics, self-organisation and feedback mechanisms [2]. Agent-based models have been recognized as highly suitable to represent the behaviour of individuals and groups within an environment in which biophysical processes occur and would therefore be a good tool to analyse the system dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbstracts Book Proceedings of the Conference, 19th Triennial Conference EAPR 2014
EditorsJ.-P. Goffart, J.-L. Rolot, K. Demeulemeester, M. Goeminne
Place of PublicationBrussel
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event19th Triennial Conference EAPR 2014, Brussels, Belgium -
Duration: 6 Jul 201411 Jul 2014


Conference19th Triennial Conference EAPR 2014, Brussels, Belgium


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