Potatoes in Practice has a big role after Brexit

Tomorrow marks the return of Potatoes in Practice (PiP), the UK’s largest annual field event for the industry, and offers growers the opportunity to catch up on the latest in new varieties and recent developments and a platform to discuss the direction and future funding of research in the sector.

Potatoes in Practice is back
Potatoes in Practice is back

The organisers said it was a welcome comeback for an event which they described as an unmissable date in the potato industry calendar.

Taking place at the James Hutton Institute’s Balruddery Farm outside Dundee, this year’s PiP will be the first not to have the active participation and support of AHDB Potatoes, the levy-payer funded organisation which commissioned research and development for the sector as well as carrying out a promotion and marketing brief.

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Following the levy payers’ ‘No’ vote on continued representation of the sector, the organisation’s potato work is being wound down – a move which commentators have said will present ‘both opportunities and challenges’ for the industry in the coming years.

Archie Gibson, executive director of Agrico UK Ltd and former chairman of the Food and Drink Federation of Scotland, said that the ‘No’ vote had exposed the industry’s vulnerabilities on the R&D front, and stated that PiP represented a golden opportunity for the industry to come together to discuss some of the major issues facing the sector - and how to resolve them.

“As the Brexit deadline approached at the end of December 2020, little did the trade imagine that in the final throw of the dice the seed potato industry in the UK would be cast adrift by the European Commission without the possibility of exporting to EU member states from 1 January 2021,” said Gibson.

He said that this had been despite the promise of an all-embracing free trade agreement and the UK government’s position approving a derogation to allow the import of EU certified seed until 30 June 2021.

However, Gibson said that growers, merchants and breeders had all recognised the possibility of border delays and additional documentation, and had set about exporting seed to European customers ahead of the deadline – a move which, despite the challenges of access to hauliers and containers brought on by the combination of Brexit and Covid, saw most trades successfully completed.

But he stressed it was crucial to make sure that UK and Scottish research and development remained up to speed to compete with competitor nations.

“Under the Common Agricultural Policy potato production was unsupported, with much critical research funded from the potato levy. For the industry to remain resilient and for food security to be assured, all the stakeholders - industry, governments and main research providers – need to agree on new ways of collaborating and funding vital work, to secure the future of the sector,” said Gibson.

“The potato industry makes a significant economic contribution to the balance of trade through certified seed exports, while ware production underpins the fresh produce category at retail with processing crops vital to a dynamic and innovative processing industry.”

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