7 March 1997

Grow potatoes buyers want

POTATO growers face stark choices as supermarkets power increases, according to ADAS.

Technical efficiency was the underlying theme at last weeks national sugar beet and potato conference in Peterborough. But customer satisfaction was the bottom line, according to Wyn Symonds, ADAS senior business manager.

Major retailers accounted for about 75% of all fresh produce sold, said Mr Symonds. Many processors were beginning to match their demands for blemish-free, highly graded material. Producers had a simple choice. "Do what is asked of you and keep and develop your markets. Or go your own way, disregard the demands and risk losing your share."

Worldwide, there were plenty of competitors ready to accept supermarket orders, he warned. Carrots, parsnips, salad onions and cabbages were already imported from Aust-ralia and New Zealand. "Potatoes would not cause any problems at all. It is a global market."

Integrated crop management systems were clearly the way forward. But there was still debate over their definition. The NFUs potato protocol, Tescos Natures Choice and others all vie for attention.

"In the current state of confusion you have two options," said Mr Symonds. "You can sit back and do nothing until you are told what to do. Or you can develop systems to meet ICMS requirements and which satisfy trace- ability demands, but which above all suit your own farming systems." ICMS gave growers the opportunity to shout about what they were doing, especially for conservation and the environment, areas of growing media and multiple interest, he said.

ADAS was working hard to create such schemes. But they would inevitably change. ICMS was merely best possible practice using current knowledge, he explained.

The key was being able to demonstrate what actions had been taken. Existing farm records were the basis. Justifying ones use of particular techniques was the main area for amendment. &#42

Do as you are asked or risk losing markets, Wyn Symonds warned potato growers.


POTATO PROSPECTS


&#8226 Buyers want blemish-free, highly graded material.

&#8226 Global market, so dont rule out imports.

&#8226 Integrated crop management the way forward.

&#8226 Confusion about schemes.

&#8226 Design your own production system to meet main goals.

&#8226 Record what done and why.