Seed growers celebrate 50 years of high standards

The ground-breaking organisation first set up by Scottish seed potato growers in the 1970s to encourage the best use of cutting edge seed multiplication technology will celebrate its 50th anniversary this weekend.

High quality seed potatoes.
High quality seed potatoes.

The Pre Basic Growers Association, formerly the Virus Tested Stem Cutting Growers Association, is to mark the anniversary with a gala dinner, in Inverness tonight (November 26).

The association’s 40-plus members produce the early generations of high-grade seed potatoes from thousand of disease free mini-tubers. The association was established in 1971 with the aim of encouraging the highest technical standards of seed production.

There were 1,281 pre-basic seed crops grown across 852 hectares by approved growers in Scotland in 2021, providing some of the initial stock for the country’s high health status seed potato crop, widely recognised around the globe as well as acting as the seedstock for the UK’s £4 billion potato industry.

Secretary, Bill Rennie, reckons that the association was the first formal group of potato producers to bring together all sectors of the industry when it established its annual conferences in Aviemore in the early 1970s.

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“These meetings brought together seed producers, ware producers, potato packers and processors as well as the leading scientists and agronomists of the day,” said Rennie, who added that the cross-sector collaboration across the entire supply chain had undoubtedly resulted in improvements in the quality of UK potatoes.

“Members were then, and continue to be, among the most technically aware of any potato growers,’’ Said Rennie

The association helps ensures top quality production by its members through regular technical meetings, annual farm visits and occasional study visits to seed producing countries overseas. In recent years visits have been made to France, Israel, Denmark and The Netherlands. The association also has a close relationship with the science agency SASA and with seed inspectors, and is regularly consulted on requirements for seed certification.

More recently the association has also been active in discussions with Defra and the Scottish Government on the import and export of seed potatoes after the export of seed potatoes to EU countries was halted following Brexit.

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And while the organisation had been strongly in favour of unrestricted trade in both directions, it threw its weight behind the prohibition of the import of seed from the EU if Scottish and UK seed could not be exported to Europe.

Members of the organisation are also currently involved, along with other sectors of the industry, in attempts to maintain some of the key areas of work which had been previously carried out by the levy-payers organisation, the AHDB.

It is hoped that some areas of research can continue to be supported – but the main emphasis of the organisation is likely to be on maintaining the standards of the Safe Haven Scheme for seed potatoes which ensures that only high quality seed which meets specific standards is used for crops grown in the UK.

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