3 April 1998

Spud future unsure

CONSUMER demands for potatoes that are both traceable and free from genetic engineering and pesticides are set to create an increasingly uncertain future for ware and seed potato growers alike.

"Markets will be driven by consumers and, in the west, their affluence will mean they disregard science and demand total traceability of a product that has not been genetically engineered or treated with any chemicals," the Central Science Laboratorys Melvyn Askew forecast at the annual conference of the European Association for Potato Research in Aberdeen last week.

Competition from Polish ware and seed from Estonia could add to the pressure on margins, he added.

Poland had tremendous potential for potato production and processors like McCain were already investing there, he said. "Forecasts that Poland will not be a major exporter of potatoes for 10 years may prove wrong. They have western technology available now."

A move to more specialisation is also possible, he says. "The freezing winters and snow cover in Estonia eliminate volunteers and disease from seed crops, for example."

Just-in-time decisions on the destination of seed and ware crops are also likely. End use and sell-by date will be designated after crops are assessed in the field.