Bright prospects for seed potatoes – despite the rain

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THE financial prospects for Scottish seed potato growers may be sunny but the past month has been anything but, with field inspections of the crops being hampered by strong winds and heavy downpours.

Physical conditions for those who walk the growing crops looking for disease have been very difficult, being soggy underfoot with shaws straggled over the drills.

Reports from the fields also reveal that the inspection programme has been made more difficult for growers by more of the bacterial disease blackleg being found.

One Angus merchant said he believed that this problem had been introduced in the pre-basic seed he had bought, but Mark Prentice, the head of seed and exports with the Potato Council, said yesterday that with zero tolerance for the disease at the pre-basic level he thought the problem had more to do with the weather of the past month.

Field inspections are now complete but no figures have yet been issued on the pass rate.

However Prentice was hopeful that the acreage of certified seed potato crops would be high as the market was there for Scottish seed.

“We have just completed last year’s export figures to non-EU countries and they are 11 per cent above the previous year, which was itself a record year.

“Exports have seen a phenomenal growth over the past five years and looking forward to this year we expect continued high demand.

“This is largely due to the professional approach shown by the seed growers to producing the right quality for the target market.

“We have pride in providing customers with the varieties they need to grow.”

Part of the export bonus has been the favourable currency rates, but Prentice said: “They may have helped open the door but once we are into markets buyers recognise the high quality seed we produce.”

Next month the Potato Council will have a presence at the prestigious Potato Europe exhibition held at Tournai, Belgium, an event that Prentice sees as an ideal opportunity for importers to discuss the benefits of buying seed from Britain.

One of the big factors in gaining export markets is plant health, and Scottish Government representatives from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture will also be at the event, offering expert impartial advice.

The event in Belgium will also see an informal round of talks on a proposal to standardise the naming of seed potato grades across Europe.

While Scotland – the government, NFU Scotland and the potato trade – see the benefit of this move, they are less enamoured with a further proposal that would see potatoes dropping a grade on an annual basis.

“This would discriminate against us as we have high health status and the rate of infection in Scotland is much lower than in other parts of Europe.”

Prentice indicated there would be no rapid decision on the issue.

source:  business.scotsman.com

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