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Trio of new SRUC Aberdeen graduates make potato industry sit up and take notice

Three new graduates from the Aberdeen Campus of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have made the potato industry sit up and take notice with their degree dissertations.


(left to right) Stephen Lucas, Calum Johnston and Joe Speed with their degrees and prizes at their graduation from SRUC

Three new graduates from the Aberdeen Campus of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have made the potato industry sit up and take notice with their degree dissertations.

The trio of self-confessed “tattie-heads” have been chipping away at hard baked farming beliefs on the way things should be done – and have mashed their creative ideas together for the future to help beat some potato diseases and transfer the knowledge into industry.

Joe Speed and Stephen Lucas, both 20 and from Kirriemuir in Angus, graduated as a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Second Class Honours, at the recent graduation ceremony held at Bute Hall, University of Glasgow – alongside the other member of the triumvirate Calum Johnston (22) from Kinfauns in Perth who received his BA in Rural Business Management First Class Honours.

Interestingly for someone who has just received their degree in agriculture, Joe did not grow up on a farm – but always had an interest in the subject. For his dissertation Joe worked on a project on Watery Wound Rot – an increasingly common disease that causes potatoes to rot in storage, particularly when harvested early in the season.

Joe worked with McCain Potatoes and found differences between different varieties in their susceptibility to this ailment. He presented his findings at a growers event in Montrose in June. His research highlighted the important message to farmers – “don’t lift too early.”

Speaking after his graduation, a delighted Joe said: “I thoroughly enjoyed carrying out my dissertation with McCain. Like the whole SRUC degree course, I found it insightful and very interesting. I am hoping my findings can be put into practice – changing some of the historic ways of the industry – and making a difference to growers.”

Fellow Kirriemuir student Stephen Lucas is passionate about spuds after growing up on an arable farm growing potatoes, so it was inevitable that he would end up working on a tattie- related subject for his honours project.

His dissertation project focused on trying to reduce Blackleg, a disease that causes valuable seed potatoes to rot in the field and in storage. Stephen worked with Techneat Engineering on a commercial scale trail of a system which produces pulsed UV light – which could be attached to a roller table – to try and reduce Blackleg. He found that exposing seed tubers to UV light reduced blackleg in one stock, but not another.

In addition to his degree, Stephen also collected a hat trick of prizes including the prestigious Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland Silver Medal for the best student in his course.

Speaking after receiving his degree, Stephen said: “Having grown up mainly with potatoes, my time at SRUC Aberdeen’s Craibstone Campus has greatly broadened my knowledge of the agricultural industry. I would recommend SRUC to anyone wishing to enter the agriculture industry, particularly the support given by many of the lecturers in the college.”

The third member of the trio Calum Johnston studied a different stream, doing his degree in Rural Business Management. But his dissertation also had a potato theme as it centred on electronic communication for knowledge transfer in agriculture.

Calum won the opportunity to attend the prestigious Oxford Farming Conference – and made the most of it by interviewing delegates to add to the quality of his research. A key part of the study involved knowledge transfer within the potato company Branston, who Calum worked with over the past two summers and has now accepted a permanent post with.

Apart from his degree Calum was also received the William J Ferguson Quaich for the Best Fourth Year Student in Rural Business Management. After his graduation Calum said: “My four years studying at SRUC Aberdeen has been an excellent learning experience – from knowledgeable and friendly staff, a variety of modules tailored to suit individual interests, and opening doors for exciting career paths.”

Congratulating Joe, Stephen and Calum, Dr Alex Hilton, Agricultural Lecturer, said: “All three students have been a credit to SRUC Aberdeen – approaching their degree studies with great enthusiasm, and have been appropriately rewarded with their degrees. We wish the trio of budding potato experts every success in their future careers and know that their learning journey is really just beginning.

“At SRUC we encourage students to work with external organisations for their honours projects. Joe has flourished with the encouragement he received from McCain Potatoes doing a professional job on his project producing useful outcomes. As for Stephen, he has produced an impressive piece of work – with clear practical outcomes

George Robertson, Programme Leader in Rural Business Management, added: “Calum puts 100% into everything that he does, so it is no surprise he achieved his first class honours degree. I have no doubt he will transfer much of what he learned to good practical use in his future career with Branston Potatoes.”

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