6 December 1996

ADAS spud setback

PRIVATISATION of ADASs research and development arm could affect its proposed plan to run the Sutton Bridge experimental unit, according to the Potato Marketing Board.

The PMB has been looking at setting up a management contract with ADAS, Scottish Agricultural College and Cambridge University to run the unit once it is wound-up in June 1997.

And the contract winners could have an option to purchase Sutton Bridge in three years time.

But Barbara Johnson, PMB head of research and development, said that if a commercial organisation took over ADASs R&D facilities the proposal would have to be monitored very closely.

Mrs Johnson said the PMB was keeping its options open for the time being. "We thought about transferring Sutton Bridge to the successor body but there was a perception that the successor body may not want to do in-house research, and instead run Sutton Bridge at arms length."

The options are being discussed by a PMB working party and are likely go before the boards January meeting. It is optimistic of making a contract decision before July, though there could also be input from the boards successor body – the Great Britain Potato Organisation – depending on its start-up timetable.

Earlier this year a consultancy report by the Centre for Agricultural Strategy, University of Reading, endorsed the value of Sutton Bridge to the potato industry. Sutton Bridge has been at the forefront of research into silver scurf, soft rot and refrigeration.

David Hall, ADAS head of marketing and proposal co-ordinator, said it was unfair to comment before the PMB had reached a decision.

Lords debate

The concern over the future of ADAS research stations was highlighted by peers in a Lords debate last week. Labours farm spokesman Lord Carter claimed that a commercial purchaser could restrict the flow of information to non-clients.

"What is known as lock-out technology could have disastrous effects on the British agricultural and food industries if ADAS ends up in the wrong hands."

&#8226 MAFFs privatisation unit last week released further business details to prospective ADAS purchasers.

Tony McDougal