19 November 1999

Need to push spuds

CONCERTED effort from everyone involved in the potato industry is needed to persuade supermarkets to drop their resistance to new varieties.

Robert Borrill, who grows about 40.5ha (100 acres) of potatoes for the fresh market on his familys 405ha (1000 acre) arable farm at Brigg, Lincs, says supermarkets are reluctant to even try new varieties.

Addressing representatives of the Scottish seed potato industry at the Virus Tested Stem Cutting Growers Associations conference in Aviemore, Mr Borrill called on breeders, the seed trade, growers and packers to put pressure on multiple retailers. The British Potato Council could also help.

"The supermarkets resist new varieties, even though growing them could be better for the environment. New varieties with better blight resistance mean fewer sprays," he said.

In his speech to the conference Mr Borrill also presented results from a survey of potato growers in his area. Responses, representing more than 1000ha (2471 acres) of potatoes, showed nine out of 10 preferred Scottish seed.

But the Scottish industry must not become complacent, he warned. "You must continue to improve the quality and strive for the perfect seed potato."

Despite the supermarkets negative attitude, new varieties, such as Saxon, Sante and Valor, were being tried in the area.

His survey showed 70% of growers were using some home-saved seed. Mr Borrill said he only home-saved Marfona, because new seed was so expensive.

Most growers preferred 10mm split seed and just over three-quarters wanted it delivered in 1t bags. Almost nine out of 10 had tried using counted seed, with 72% convinced it was worthwhile. "It takes an awful lot of strain out of the job. For me, the cost per acre did not work out much more and I am very happy with the system," he told the conference. &#42

Shelley Wright