Potato sellers upbeat for coming seed season

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Despite the rejection of a boat load of Scottish seed potatoes in Egypt earlier this year, Robert Burns, the head of seed and ware exports with the Potato Council, was in upbeat mood yesterday.

He said that the 2013 growing crop was now more than halfway through field inspections and there had been little in the way of health problems.

The market for the coming season was also buoyant and he was optimistic export tonnage to non-EU countries would again top 80,000 tonnes.

Speaking at an open potato trials day in Fife organised by Scottish Agronomy and the Potato Council, he said: “The Israeli market looks buoyant. The Moroccans will be back and this year we will have, for the first time, a small tonnage going to Vietnam.”

The opening up of this latter market, he said was due to an increasing middle class who wanted potatoes in their diet.

Even if there has been a hiccup at the tail end of the 2012 export trade with Egypt, which takes almost half of all Scottish seed potato exports, he was sure this would not affect future trade with that country.

The problem delivery came late in the season with a 1,400 tonnes consignment of Hermes. Burns and a couple of inspectors from the department went out to see why the potatoes had been rejected.

“By the time, we arrived, some two months after the consignment had arrived in Egypt,” he said, “the potatoes were still in store. They looked rather tired but we could see no reason for rejection.”

He felt the rejection had been a commercial decision made very late in the season and possibly linked to an oversupply in the Egyptian market by an importer whom he understood would be buying Scottish seed this year.

In talking about the Egyptian market, he said the buyers were pragmatic and over the years had seen the health benefits of buying Scottish seed but he was concerned that the present political unrest might spill over and produce currency restrictions which would cause problems for the trade.

David Piccaver, who took over as chairman of the Potato Council in April, gave a robust defence of its work on his first official visit to Scotland

“The council provides a wealth of information on market intelligence as well as carrying out important research and development work,” he said, adding that it did not matter in which sector of the industry you were – grower, processor or merchant – there were benefits from the work of the levy board.

Looking forward, he said he would like to see major research work being carried out on three of the main pests that attack the potato crop, blackleg, aphids and potato cyst nematodes.

The fight against all three was now being compromised by the gradual withdrawal of pesticides and there was a need to “up our game” against them.

Piccaver believed there was sympathy within the UK government’s Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the farming industry in the battle to produce more food.

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