31 May 1996

Seed potato trade tries arm-twisting

By Philip Clarke

POTATO growers looking to make early bookings of Scottish seed are being told they must also take a percentage of Dutch material.

Following last seasons brown rot problem in Holland, which led to a number of cancelled seed orders, traders fear further rejection of Dutch product as forward selling for next years planting gets under way.

One Lincolnshire farmer, who prefered to remain nameless, was told by his merchant he could only have Scottish seed if he took an equivalent weight of Dutch Estima. Trade sources suggest the practice is becoming more widespread.

According to John Bethell of the Scottish Seed Potato Development Council, there have been "flirtations" with this policy in the past. "It is not unusual for a seedsman to be told he can grow a certain proportion of Scottish seed, so long as he also takes some Dutch. Previously, it was then up to him to clear his books. But this season, that policy is being thrust on the farmer." He said this issue was being examined as part of a wider legal investigation into the extent of controllers rights.

Leading Dutch supplier, Agrico, says it only deals with merchants and imposes no such conditions on farmers. "But a number of smaller, independent merchants, who last year showed us no loyalty and cancelled orders, have come back this year, looking to cherry pick our Scottish, English and Welsh seed," said a spokeswoman. "We have told them "no way" and require them to commit to a tonnage of Dutch as well. It is up to them how they sell it."

Chairman of the Scottish Potato Traders Association, David Stewart, said there was evidence of some merchants trying to force farmers to take both origins. He recommended farmers shop around and consider all risks before choosing a variety.