Egyptian riddle hits sales of Scotland’s potatoes

Seed potatoes from Scotland are widely exported. Picture: Alastair Watson
Seed potatoes from Scotland are widely exported. Picture: Alastair Watson
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The tonnage of seed potatoes exported this past season has fallen by around 10,000 tonnes with the reduction being blamed on a late change in the specifications set down by Egypt, the main customer for Scottish potatoes.

Robert Burns, seed and export manager with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Potato section said a last-minute move reducing the maximum tuber size from 60 millimetres to 55 millimetres had caught growers out.

“The decision by the Egyptians to reduce the top size was only made in August and, by that time, it was too late for growers to do anything to restrict growth,” he said.

Some 90,000 tonnes of potatoes from the 2014 crop was exported but this figure is likely to drop to around 80,000 tonnes from the 2015 harvest. Egypt remains the main buyer of Scottish seed taking more than half the total tonnage exported.

With this spring being colder than normal, planting is behind schedule but this is not a big concern for seed growers who normally have to restrict their crops from growing.

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Looking at new markets for seed from this country, Burns said he was hopeful that Kenya would be buying for the first time this year. He had hoped Scotland would send seed out to Cuba this past year but an administrative mix-up in the Caribbean had knocked this possibility on the head.

“They need healthy seed and we want to get into that market before the Americans do,” he stated referring to the recent relaxing of trade sanctions between Cuba and the United States.

However, he dismissed any prospects of seed from this country being exported to China in the near future. “We have been negotiating with them for 12 years and they are still sticking to their demands that any potatoes must be free of soil and silver scurf.

“Silver scurf can develop in transit and until we get that issue resolved then there is no market.”

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Another disease is currently unsettling the ware potato trade. Normally at this time of year, processors import new potatoes from Andalucia in Spain but this area currently has plant health restrictions because of the spread of the epitrix flea beetle.

This pest has is now boring its way through crops in Portugal and Spain. Potatoes from infected areas cannot be moved unless they are washed and this is causing some UK processors headaches.