14 April 2000

Spud seed growers take control

MEETING seed customers needs has prompted a group of Borders potato growers to take marketing into its own hands.

"We want what we do to be transparent," says seed manager Martin Baird of Scott Country Potatoes. "Customer trust and satisfaction with our seed is of utmost importance to us."

The Kelso-based grower co-operative used to market seed through a single merchant. But finding out who the end customer was and how seed performed proved difficult. Now seed is sold direct where possible.

"It means the customer is not taking the seed blind. We are aiming to strike up a good relationship and do repeat business."

Margins also play a part, he concedes. "It is a bit of both really. The less hands the seed goes through the better."

Potential buyers or contract customers are encouraged to inspect stocks in the field or in store and all stocks are traceable from field to despatch.

"All that data is put on the delivery ticket and when we have loaded the seed here we fax the despatch notes through to the customer, with the drivers contact number so they can check on his progress."

A Shouten five-step grader sorts stocks in up to six size bands, and all seed is tuber counted.

Once crisping varieties dominated the portfolio, but now ware makes up 60-70% of the 220ha (550 acres) grown. Most are sold at SE2 grade having been grown for two seasons from VT2 seed brought from the far north.

SAC double checks seed health for blackleg, scabs, scurfs and skin spot.

A regular team of roguers is employed by Scott Country to remove any suspect plants. "Mainly it is the odd ground- keeper, and occasional blackleg," says Mr Baird.

After one season of selling direct, he is confident the group has made the right decision. "Prices have been a disappointment. But we have sold everything and it has been a difficult year for everyone. It was the right move without a doubt." &#42

"Dell, graded to 35-50mm," says Scott Country Potatoes seed manager Martin Baird (left). Many of the Borders co-ops seed customers are starting to demand tighter specifications, he tells SACs Barrie Mitchell.

SCP DIRECT SEED

&#8226 Customer satisfaction goal.

&#8226 Communication crucial.

&#8226 220ha seed a year.

&#8226 Minimum 8 year rotation.

&#8226 8500t refrigerated storage.