Nobody would describe North Yorks seed potato producer Mike Stringer as particularly keen to add to his paperwork burden by joining the British Potato Council-led Safe Haven Certification Scheme, but he recognises the importance of signing up.
The scheme aims to keep the UK free from ring rot (see Q&A panel), a devastating bacterial disease, which has been reported in over 30 countries across five continents.
“I can see the necessity.
If we got ring rot, and were left with a shed full of seed, it would probably be the end of our business,” he says.
Signing up won’t be immediate.
The aim is to join at his annual Assured Produce inspection early next summer, but the farm will have to make some changes to some of its practices before then.
Chief among these will be a tightening up on the use and cleaning of the machinery he shares with other local producers.
Ring rot can survive for several years in infected potato debris, so dirty machinery is a significant risk for disease spread.
The farm grades 3000t to 5000t of potatoes every year across its grading machinery, including that of three local seed growers under a loose contracting arrangement.
After certification any grading will have to be restricted to growers within the scheme, he notes.
“One of our group is very keen, but I’m sure all three will join.”
Thankfully, the machine only needs to be cleaned if it is moved to another farm, not between stocks from different accredited units.
“That would have been a major hassle, as well as impractical.”
But the need to clean and disinfect equipment moving between different units thoroughly cannot be avoided for potato harvesters.
“Realistically that is the main area where problems could exist.
We don’t have a harvester, so we have to be happy the equipment is clean.”
Previously the contract harvester was pressure-washed down, but not disinfected.
“Both contractors are also seed producers, so they will be well aware of what is required, but we will need to put systems in place to make sure we comply.”
Potatoes are usually harvested into boxes – another potential source of spread.
Boxes that have been used on non-accredited farms will need washing and disinfecting before use.
Transporting seed to customers in boxes, which has happened in the past, will be stopped, he says.
“We will send it all in non-returnable big bags in the future.
It will be an extra cost, but the majority is already sent that way anyway.”
The requirements, particularly the cleaning, will create more paperwork, he notes.
“That’s not particularly welcome – we have enough already.”
Providing evidence that each seed stock is derived from ring rot tested nuclear stock will also create extra administrative demands.
“Most of the elements are in place; it is just a case of bringing them all together in one place.”
Seed is bought from either his local merchant, Cockerill’s, or from organic seed specialist Bioselect.
“We haven’t found out yet whether they will be sourcing seed from accredited units.
Obviously, we hope they will. If not, it would create problems for us.”
For the scheme to be successful, he believes most seed growers will have to sign up.
“Everyone ought to join, we need to protect the industry from ring rot.”