26 January 1996

Potato trade is still split by brown rot row

CALLS for tighter controls to protect UK potato growers from brown rot are being countered by ever optimistic seedsmen, following last weeks suspected case in Dutch seed delivered to Cornwall (see News).

Potato Marketing Board research and development officer Mike Storey wants ministry sampling and testing "stepped up".

"The Dutch now believe their outbreak came from the River Reitdiep in Groningen in 1994. It spread during that year through irrigation, and in 1995 through seed contamination as well."

In two years, the disease has spread from one source across the whole country, he says. "That shows the extent of the problem we could face in the UK."

Dr Storey believes the ministry findings show EU measures, including tougher tests and export notification procedures in Holland, are not working.

Tighter measures

He hopes MAFF will demand the EU imposes tighter measures as well as tightening its own here.

Tom Stones, technical director of Potex in Hanley, Staffs is insistent that the tests do not guarantee freedom from disease. "The test is iffy. Thats been proved by this seed getting through Dutch tests."

Dominic Guindy, seed import manager for Caithness Classified Crops, importer of the suspect seed, is more optimistic. "Our Dutch agents are bullish that the seed will not have brown rot. It came from a farm in a clean area in line with our policy.

"Their tests proved negative, so the tubers were free of disease then. Infection levels could have built up since, so it is difficult to say what might happen."

Agricos UK manager Ron Reiss is more guarded. "The ministry says the initial test can produce false positives. I am hopeful this will be a false alarm."