Invited Speakers

Our invited speakers, from five different continents (Africa, Asia, Australisia, North America, South America), will describe some of the main potato pest and pathogen threats on those continents to add context to our research in Europe and how it aligns with that of other nations worldwide.

We are delighted to also announce our special guest speaker Nicola Spence - Chief Plant Health Officer and Head of the National Plant Protection Organisation for the UK, who will describe the UK response to European and International plant health matters, and coordinated initiatives on plant health in Europe.    


Nicola Spence - Special Guest SpeakerNicola Spence (Special Guest Speaker)

I am Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer and the Head of the National Plant Protection Organisation for the UK. The role of the Chief Plant Health Officer involves advising ministers, industry and others about the risks posed by plant pests and diseases, and ensuring that measures are in place to manage those risks and minimise their impact, as well as leading the operational response in the event of a disease outbreak. Although plant health is a devolved matter; the CPHO co-ordinates the UK response to European and International plant health matters and takes the lead on national plant health emergency response. I am an experienced research plant pathologist and worked on virus diseases of horticultural crops in the UK and internationally for over 20 years. I am an expert in plant health and international plant trade and was previously the Head of Plant Health and then Chief Scientist at the Food and Environment Research Agency. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, Special Professor in the Department of Biosciences at Nottingham University, a member of Court at the University of York and a Trustee of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Yorkshire Arboretum. I have a BSc in Botany from the University of Durham, an MSc in Microbiology from Birkbeck College, University of London and a PhD in Plant Virology from the University of Birmingham. The subject of my PhD was Bean Common Mosaic Virus in Phaseolus beans in Africa.


Our invited speakers are: 

Jacquie van der Waals (Africa)

Jacquie van der Waals (Africa)I have been a potato pathologist since 1998 obtaining a PhD at the University of Pretoria on the epidemiology of early blight on potatoes. Since then I have established the Potato Pathology Programme at the university, and have established a dynamic team of young postgraduate students. I have since begun research programmes on blackleg and soil-borne diseases. In 2008, I joined the International Potato Diagnostics Collaboration, which comprised a group of scientists from Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and South Africa, aimed at developing real-time PCR techniques for quantification of soil-borne inoculum of important pathogens. More recently, I worked with collaborators from South Africa and the Netherlands to investigate the effects of climate change on potato pests and pathogens, which allowed me to make recommendations to growers on changes to future management practices. In 2015, I was invited to join the board of technical experts for the International Potato Tuber Blemishes Website.  I am an associate editor for Crop Protection and European Journal of Plant Pathology and often speak at both scientific and grower events. I received the Publicity Award of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology in 2009.

Ruofang Zhang (Asia)

Ruofang Zhang (Asia)I have been working on and teaching plant pathology since 1988. I obtained my PhD in 2004 at Pennsylvania State University, USA and I am currently a Professor and leader of Plant genetics, breeding and plant pathology and head the Inner Mongolia Potato Engineering and Technology Research Center, Inner Mongolia University, China. My main research interest is late blight but I also work on potato soil-borne diseases including common scab and dry rot with a focus on epidemiology and integrated pest management (IPM). I am also the leader of the Potato Diseases and Pests Research Lab. Potato Industry Technology System, Chinese National Modern Agricultural Industry Technology System. I am a member of the Biology Group, XI Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council, and I was awarded the “Prairie Excellence” in Inner Mongolia.

Andy Pitman (Australasia)

Andy Pitman (Australasia)I obtained my PhD in molecular microbiology at the University of Wales Swansea and have 15 years experience in plant pathology. I am presently team leader of the Microbial Systems for Plant Protection team in the Bio-protection portfolio at The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research (Lincoln, New Zealand). I am also an adjunct associate professor within the neighbouring Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University, where I am involved primarily in research and postgraduate supervision. I am the programme leader for Bioprotection research of Potato at Plant & Food Research, and have ongoing interests in pest and disease management and biosecurity associated with this crop. In particular, I have worked closely with the Potato Industry in New Zealand in their response to the discovery of Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum and its associated disease zebra chip. As a member of the original Liberibacter emergency response team, I was awarded the Plant & Food Chairman’s award for supporting the accreditation of Ca. Liberibacter solanacearum diagnostic facilities for use in New Zealand. My colleagues and I have subsequently established the impact of seed tuber-borne inoculum of this pathogen on commercial potato production, leading to a seed tuber certification system for Ca. Liberibacter solanacearum in New Zealand.

Amy Charkowski (North America)

Amy Charkowski (North America)I received my Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1998, where I studied Pseudomonas syringae under the direction of Alan Collmer. I joined the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin in 2001, where my effort is split between research, teaching, and administration of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program. My research has focused on understanding molecular plant-microbe interactions, with a focus on soft rot bacterial pathogens and Potato virus Y. My research group also directs a participatory project that aids farmers in managing plant diseases on organic farms. Since 2014, I have been the Director of the Annual Meeting Board for the American Phytopathological Society and I also serve on the executive committee for the Potato Association of America. My efforts have been recognized with the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower of the Year Award, the American Phytopathological Society Syngenta Award and, recently, both the Friday Chair for Vegetable Production Research and the Vilas Mid-Career Award at UW-Madison.

Peter Kromann (South America)

Peter Kromann (South America) I am currently working at the International Potato Center as a Regional Potato Scientist based in Quito, Ecuador.  I conduct research and development activities on IPM, seed systems, crop growth, and soil-water-plant relations under different climatic and management conditions in Latin America.  I have 16 years of experience in plant pathology since my Bachelor and Master in Agricultural Science with specialization in Plant Pathology from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen, Denmark. I received my Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Life Sciences, working on integrated management of potato late blight, which continues to be my main area of interest. I am especially interested in disease epidemiology and management strategies appropriate for developing countries.  At present I am also working on a global potato seed degeneration project and a Rhizoctonia project. As a plant pathologist I have worked with the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and have now been with the International Potato Center in South America for 10 years.