News Update - April 2020

Potato planting

James Hutton Limited is still open for business, supporting several key sectors to continue with theirs.  We are observing social distancing and PPE guidelines in our laboratories, glasshouses and fields so that essential work can continue throughout these very different areas of our business and these very difficult times.

Please read on for a brief update of how COVID-19 has impacted each of our business areas.

Blackcurrant FlowersBlackcurrants

Essential glasshouse staff are doing a tremendous job of raising blackcurrant seedlings from crosses made in 2019 for our blackcurrant breeding programmes which are funded by Ribena Lucozade Suntory for processing varieties and by Winterwood Farms for fresh. We are in the second year of testing a new propagation method for blackcurrants which will hopefully allow us to speed up the establishment of new plants when they are required for breeding programmes. 
Commercial blackcurrant growing is almost fully mechanised and machine harvesting is something many soft fruit crops strive for. This, and several other factors, including potential for boosting our immune systems, confirm how important it is to maintain blackcurrant breeding programmes and to secure low input, high impact crops for the future - a healthy seedling is always a hope for better future!



Our Ribes species collection is in full bloom showing off a range of pinks, whites and greens that not only attract essential pollinators but look stunning to us as well!  The collection is important in terms of research linked to pest resistance and flavour and also for widening the genetic pool in breeding, and for introgression of unique traits.


Although we are working with some limitations, we are ahead in terms of our raspberry crossing schedule compared with previous years and this is due to a combination of an early start and a dedicated breeding team. Prior to the end of March, ~80% of the scheduled crosses were initiated, and the remaining will be completed next year.  Due to extra crossing in the last two years, we will have ample novel material to plant and evaluate this season and we anticipate planting new soil and substrate breeding trials as planned. This will take longer than usual with reduced staff, but we plan to have the plots completed this spring, subject to weather and ground conditions. 

Over the winter, we carried out an annual experiment comparing the chill requirement of new cultivars and advanced selections with existing, established varieties. This will give growers and propagators additional information when establishing new varieties.  The dormancy experiment for winter 2019/20 is now complete and data entry is in progress.    


We are continuing with the release of our newest raspberry varieties; RBC16P4 (provisional name Skye), RBC16P5 (provisional name Lewis) and RBC16F6 (provisional name Glen Mor), and we’re delighted that plants are now available to purchase through R W Walpole in the UK and Genson BV in the Netherlands; please contact the propagators directly for pricing.  Further information on the varieties is available from

New raspberry varieties



Potato plantingOur potato breeding programmes are progressing through the season as normal.  All trials for planting offsite left the Institute over the last few weeks and if not already in the ground will be so shortly.
At the James Hutton Institute, we will maintain some non-essential material in the glasshouse rather than plant out as we usually would and we are currently working out suitable arrangements for field planting.  To take into account social distancing guidelines, we’ll need to make a few changes to our usual working practices and will need a little more time to carry out the work however, we are on target to plant all potato trials as expected.


Our Analytical Laboratories in Aberdeen are operating a limited service and prioritising analyses from food, energy and water sectors.

Likewise, our Molecular Diagnostic laboratory in Dundee is available for work but is currently focused on internal diagnostics from our own soft fruit and potato breeding programmes. Work is being considered on a case by case basis so please contact us with any requests.


In order to ensure the safety of our team and the quality of our work, our lipid laboratory has been closed completely for the past few weeks but we are hoping to open again very soon. Samples from the food and medicinal product supply chain will be prioritised.


We’re very pleased that the Hutton group (the James Hutton Institute and James Hutton Limited) was awarded with renewed ORETO accreditation just recently. This means that we can carry out efficacy trials and testing for chemical crop products in the categories of horticultural/agricultural, biologicals and semiochemicals and stored crops.  We look forward to sharing more information about this soon, and to commencing new field trials next spring.  


The teams involved in contract research reacted quickly to pre-empt the severity of COVID-19. Work done ahead of lock down has proven vital in maintaining a high standard when this became enforced and this will put us in a strong position when we return to some sort of normality.  Some projects have been impacted due to their seasonal nature however colleagues with vital project roles can access our sites to continue with their work packages and we are supported as necessary by our partners and funding organisations.  We are very lucky to have colleagues who act on their passion for their roles and have helped to ensure that James Hutton Limited are in a strong position post COVID-19.


While we’re disappointed that many of the events we normally attend over the summer have been cancelled, all going well, we’re looking forward to attending two new events in the early autumn.  Aquaculture UK will take place in Aviemore on September 15-17, and we’ll also be at the Contamination Expo Series on September 16-17. Both of these events will give us the opportunity to showcase our service offerings directly to these industries for the first time. 

We are happy to discuss any way that we can support your business with our crop science, contract research or analytical expertise.  If you need to contact any member of the team, we are available by email, by telephone or simply contact us through the website. 

We hope that your businesses are coping in these difficult times and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this pandemic.