Potato assurance is message

18 July 1997




Potato assurance is message

POTATO growers must join the NFU/retailer Assured Produce Scheme next season if they want to supply premium outlets the following year.

That was the message for potato growers attending an ICM open day at the Cambs site of potato packer MBM Produce.

Teething troubles will take a year to overcome and by the following season all premium multiple retailers and processors will source from accredited growers only, said MBM agronomist Tim Berry.

Growers registering this autumn will receive a self audit form, and will be verified over the next two or three years. Most are well prepared, said Mr Berry. "We knew ICM was going to be fundamental to the marketing of potatoes, so we have given it a high profile for several years."

Record keeping is the main challenge. "We have been encouraging growers to improve standards. It makes commercial sense – to grow crops effectively, you need to know when you applied inputs, why, and what effect they had. As far as assurance is concerned, good, independently verifiable records are vital to gain customer confidence."

Henry Cator, who runs Rotac Farms, a LEAF demonstration unit at Woodbastwick, Norfolk, reckoned upgrading would take little effort.

"Its all about getting organised. You dont need banks of computers – manual systems can work just as well.

"Rather than saying we check the sprayer or the fertiliser spreader at the start of the season, we record when it was done." A checklist, much like a car servicing sheet, provides a quick and easy reference, he added.

Cost of adopting ICM is a concern, Mr Berry admitted. But it should not be seen as a major issue. "Good growers will only be fine-tuning their system. They are already looking at pesticide rates and appropriate product use."

The biggest outlay will be the joining fee, perhaps £200-250 a year. "That is peanuts compared with the benefits of selling potatoes of the right quality. Two tonnes of potatoes will pay for the fee."

Mr Cator said ICM made his business more efficient and profitable.

"People may spend more time walking crops to justify inputs. But that often leads to less spraying, and quite often we can reduce inputs too. If we can get away with a quarter or half dose, we will."

ICM protocols could force some smaller growers out of business, Mr Berry acknowledged. Recent price squeezes have already pushed some to the edge.

Worries about maintaining quality while reducing inputs were unfounded, said Caroline Drummond of Linking Environment and Farming. "Reasoned, not reduced, inputs are the key. Growers will be able to retain an adequate chemical armoury to control pests and diseases."

MAIN GROWER CONCERNS

—————

&#8226 Cost of scheme.

&#8226 Record keeping.

&#8226 Maintaining quality.

&#8226 What needs to be done?

WHY ICM?

To alleviate consumer fears over:

&#8226 Pesticide residues.

&#8226 Spray drift.

&#8226 High chemical inputs.

&#8226 Declining bird numbers.

&#8226 Loss of habitat.

GROWER CONCERNS

&#8226 Cost of scheme.

&#8226 Record keeping.

&#8226 Maintaining quality.

&#8226 What needs to be done?


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