Late-blight epidemics on potato in Finland, 1933–2002: increased and earlier occurrence of epidemics associated with climate change and lack of rotation

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Changes in the incidence and onset of potato late-blight epidemics in Finland were investigated and compared with possible changes in climate, presence of soil-borne inoculum, and aggressiveness of Phytophthora infestans populations. Datasets were constructed from leaf blight assessments in cultivar trials or fungicide tests carried out at eight experimental sites during the periods 1933–1962 and 1983–2002. Additional data were obtained from late-blight monitoring projects carried out from 1991 to 2002. From 1998 to 2002, the risk of blight outbreak was 17-fold higher compared with the periods 1933–62 and 1983–1997. Simultaneously, the outbreaks of the epidemics began 2–4 weeks earlier. The changes observed were associated with a climate more conducive to blight in the late 1990s. Lack of rotation also advanced blight epidemics by an average of 9 days in 1998–2002, but it did not have this effect in 1992–1997, suggesting that soil borne inoculum may not have been a significant threat to potato until the late 1990s. The aggressiveness of the P. infestans isolates seemed to have only minor effect on the onset of the epidemics after 1991, as the apparent infection rate remained unchanged despite weather conditions more favourable to late blight in the late 1990s. As a consequence of the more frequent and earlier epidemics, the sales of fungicides used against late blight in Finland increased 4-fold from the 1980s to 2002.

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