Ware increase could threaten Scottish high potato seed health status

An increasing proportion of ware production in Scotland could threaten the high health status of seed potatoes produced in the country, Allan Parker, president of the World Potato Congress, told Farmers Weekly after speaking to seed growers at the Potato Council’s Seed Industry Event.


“Up until recently, the ratio of seed to ware production was 60% seed to 40% ware,” he said. “Now it has flipped to closer to 40% seed and 60% ware in Scotland. That’s a changed situation which must not be let get away.”


In his presentation, Mr Parker explained how Prince Edward Island in Canada had lost its high seed health status for seed potatoes during the 1980s after processing production increased, bringing in varieties with low virus resistance, and after seed growers had had to pay for certification.


potato-planting.gif


The result was that the seed potato industry dropped from a high of 60,000 acres to 17,000 acres by 2007 and thriving export markets were lost.


“Growers shouldn’t be afraid of growth and change, but if it wants success, it needs to be vigilant to the challenges it brings,” he said.


Mr Parker suggested there should be legislation to help protect the seed industry’s high health status. “If you’re growing table crops [in seed areas], you have to agree to meet good health standards for those crops before they are planted,” he said.


That would start with using only certified seed or farm-saved seed that met agreed quality standards.


Also, ware growers had a duty to understand that aphids in their crops presented a risk for transmitting virus in seed crops. “If Scotland wishes to keep a seed potato industry, the standards for virus control in ware crops need to be very high,” he said.









Eastern promise


Russia and other eastern European countries offered a great export opportunity for Scottish seed growers and the wider potato industry, said Mr Parker.
His DokaGene Technologies firm sourced seed from Scotland every year to grow in Russia, but with 8m acres of potatoes being grown in that country, Scotland was not supplying as much as it should be, he said.
“As well as seed potatoes, the industry could also be selling knowhow, marketing and advice,” he said.
But to be successful, growers needed to understand the business culture in such countries, he said. “Understand what your customers need.” For example, develop new varieties targeted to those markets, he suggested.
That process had been happening for a time, and was part of the reason why seed exports had risen in the past 10 years from 70,000t to 90,000t a year, said Mark Prentice of the Potato Council.
“Clearly, there is a demand for our product worldwide. Customers are looking for a high-health product.”
The question now was whether to continue to seek new export markets or try to consolidate and grow existing markets, he said. “The consensus is probably to focus more energy on the latter, while not forgetting completely about new markets.”