Lift would rescue UK potatoes
By Tony McDougal
CALLS for a big investment in UK potato processing facilities to combat the 700,000t of imported raw materials were made this week by Potato Marketing Board chairman John Heading.
Speaking at the annual general meeting in London on Tuesday, Mr Heading said increasing the British crop by 17,000ha would help improve the industrys balance of payments and boost incomes.
With a quota-free market next year, Mr Heading argued that while UK producers did not have a divine right to grow additional potatoes, the Board had a proven track-record of reliable supply, expertise and a good disease record.
Problems of brown rot disease, which is rife in both seed and ware potatoes in Holland, were raised by producers worried about the potential threat of its spread to the UK.
At present, the UK imports 70,000t of ware potatoes and a further 35-40,000t of seed potatoes from Holland. Mr Heading said the disease outbreak in Holland presented domestic producers with further opportunities to expand.
Dr Mike Storey, PMB research manager, welcomed MAFFs decision last week under the EU Plant Health directive to require growers to notify MAFF of any import consignments of seed and ware potatoes of Dutch origin. MAFF has taken on additional temporary staff to carry out laboratory tests.
Speaking at an earlier press briefing, Mr Heading called upon MAFF to carry out a national survey, and warned producers that they could expect farm checks from inspectors.
• Imports of Dutch potatoes in Northern Ireland have been temporarily banned by the Depart-ment of Agriculture.
The department now wants to halt any imports of Dutch potatoes until it can clarify the new arrangements, agreed by the European Community last week, for controlling the disease. *