When just one isolated case of ring rot on a British farm can devastate a perfectly good potato business and have serious consequences for the whole industry, it makes sense to do anything to protect your own business from the same fate.

And it was why joining the British Potato Council’s Safe Haven Certification Scheme was an obvious step for Suffolk seed producer James Foskett Farms.

Protecting the business from an outbreak of ring rot was the primary reason for joining, says farm manager Graham Tomalin. “Our initial concern was to make sure that we weren’t exposed to any disease risks.

“We saw what happened to the farm in Wales where an outbreak wasconfirmed, and we were determined to try to avoid a similar fate.”

But joining the scheme, which now covers over half of the British seed potato area, also means the farm is protected from other diseases, he notes.

This includes brown rot and the Erwinia chrysanthemi complex of bacteria, Dickeya dianthicola, in particular. The disease can cause tuber rots and up to 100% crop loss. While it has been a huge problem for continental growers, there have been 40 confirmed outbreaks in UK crops since 1990, although anecdotal evidence suggests significantly more.

Potential losses are substantial, but they pale into insignificance compared with the £10.7m a year a ring rot outbreak could cost the industry. And with no compensation available, that does not even take into account the cost of disposals and clean-up to individual businesses.

Those kinds of statistics should prompt ware producers to request Safe Haven seed, now there is sufficient supply, the BPC hopes.

James Foskett Farms’ customers have not specifically asked whether the farm is part of the scheme, Mr Tomalin notes. “But they do expect to receive top quality seed, and being in the scheme shows we take our responsibilities very seriously, and that we are doing everything to help other growers and support the industry.”

The farm grows 100ha of certified seed potatoes, supplying customers in the UK and abroad through a marketing agreement with Greenvale. “About half our seed goes to local farms, but we also send seed further afield and exported to Spain and Austria this season.”

Accreditation to the Safe Haven scheme was given last year as soon as the auditing process was completed. Meeting the standards was not particularly difficult, not least because the farm was already doing many of the best practice measures. “We fulfilled many of the criteria already,” Mr Tomalin notes.

Procedures at the heart of accreditation are practical and straightforward, he says. “There’s an annual assessment involved and the auditing costs are about £140, but it is a small price to pay for peace of mind.” For some growers it can take a full growing season to ensure traceability of seed.

Being part of an industry-wide scheme is a bonus, Mr Tomalin suggests. “It gives the industry the chance to work together, for the benefit of all.”

Being in the Safe Haven Scheme protects seed potato crops against a range of diseases besides ring rot, says Graham Tomalin.


Potatoes in practice

This year’s Potatoes in Practice is at Gourdie Farm, by Invergowrie, Dundee, on Thursday, 9 August 2007. Sponsored by the British Potato Council and hosted by SCRI, Scottish Agricultural College and CSC PotatoCare, it’s a unique chance for farmers, advisers and others to view the latest government and industry-supported research at a single site. It is free to attend and a full list of exhibitors can be found at www.scri.ac.uk