First director for innovation centre


25 May 2023
Ian takes on top potato role.

PROFESSOR Ian Toth has been named first Director of the National Potato Innovation Centre by the James Hutton Institute.

The top scientist has been appointed to head up flagship initiatives being carried out at the Scottish research institute that focusses on the sustainable use of land, crops, and natural resources.

Ian is the first director of the centre which is being planned to accelerate potato breeding and discovery, resilient production systems and innovative products while creating skilled jobs in new industries. 

A plant pathologist specialising in potato diseases, Professor Toth is currently Director of Scotland’s Plant Health Centre – the multi-organisation virtual operation led by Hutton and funded by the Scottish Government, to help tackle plant health in the country.

In 2020 he received the ‘British Potato Industry Award’ for lifetime contribution to the industry and will become President of the European Association for Potato Research (EAPR) in 2024. 

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The new Director said the NPIC’s detailed operational plans are now firmly in place with funding being established, positioning it to become one of the world’s leading potato research facilities.

He said its wide-ranging research efforts will centre, for instance, on improved potato pest and disease control and making the global industry more climate and environment friendly with less waste, adding that forging international collaborations will form a key pillar of the facility’s work.

“There is nothing humble about the potato – in fact, it’s the world’s third most important staple food crop and the single most important crop in terms of food produced per unit area. Hutton is already the custodian of the Commonwealth Potato Collection - a unique source of potato germplasm from wild relatives and land races,” he said.

“However, yield gains in potatoes have failed to keep pace with those achieved in other crops, largely down to their complex genetics. We will be tackling what’s now an urgent need - to lead global research into this most-vital of crops, using both natural science and social science working together.”

Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of The James Hutton Institute said: “Our work is multi-facetted, from reducing the need for imports, to how produce could be provided by simpler supply chains less prone to shocks, to how we rebuild our natural capital after centuries of over-consumption. 

“Our scientists are discovering better ways of feeding ourselves without further damaging our environment, finding new climate-positive food and drink products, and piloting revolutionary technologies for crop management to leave less of a footprint on the land.”

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