14 March 1996

Scots seed potato area in jeopardy?

RESTRICTIONS on growing some classes of seed potatoes in England and Wales have been abolished. But Scottish seed growers seem unconcerned.

For 1997 the geographical restrictions and controls on growing Elite and AA classes outside former eligible areas will be removed. VTSC and Super Elite restrictions could be lifted in 1998.

The move follows three-years of aphid monitoring and checking virus levels in tubers post-harvest. Trials will continue on VTSC and Super Elite classes.

"Clearly there is potential for significant expansion of seed potato production in England and Wales and our industry is now well placed to take advantage of new marketing opportunities," says MAFFs Tim Boswell.

Scottish-grown

Until now most seed has been grown in Scotland – 300,000t in 1996. But Hugh Edmond, PMB divisional manager, does not expect quality production to move south. Climatic conditions still favour the Scots.

Gordon Smillie who handles about 20,000t of seed a year for Caithness Potatoes and Perth-based J E Smillie believes the current upsurge of interest among southern seed growers will be short-lived as higher production costs begin to bite.

"Its not a cheap job. I think they will get fed up."

Former FW barometer grower Mike Cumming, who grows about 60ha (150 acres) of Super Elite seed near Forfar, is equally unconcerned.

All takes time

"You cant build up expertise in the seed job overnight." Inspection and roguing his crops requires five men for a full month in the summer, he notes.

But former FW Farmer of the Year Robert Lawton maintains that with long rotations on his Wiltshire farm a southern seed operation is feasible without excessive pesticide use.

"There is no doubt we can grow high quality Elite seed on the hills of southern England," he declares.

Andrew Blake