AHDB pledges to work with industry to tackle blackleg

AHDB has pledged to work closely with the seed potato sector and Scottish Government to ensure that the industry maintains a low level of the fungal disease blackleg. Speaking at

AHDB has pledged to work closely with the seed potato sector and Scottish Government to ensure that the industry maintains a low level of the fungal disease blackleg.

Speaking at the Seed Industry event in St Andrew’s, AHDB Potatoes Strategy Director Rob Clayton said that while there are no easy answers when it comes to blackleg, the key to maintaining the high health status of the industry is collective responsibility. The event saw a national stocktake of current management practices regarding blackleg which will be used to drive future research and best practice recommendations.

He also stressed that British seed is still very attractive to foreign markets. He said: “Freedom from key notifiable diseases such as ring rot and brown rot along with excellent low-virus status, continue to make GB-produced seed attractive under the Safe Haven scheme. Our 2012 plant health strategy has a clear focus on reputation and long term sustainability always trump risky short term commercial gains.

“Today we have asked every single delegate to commit to reviewing and improving their management of disease risk and we’re confident that our reputation as a high health seed producer will be maintained.”

This was echoed by Head of Crop Exports Trade Development Rob Burns who said that there could be record levels of UK seed exported this year. He said: “The harvest looks to have a good seed fraction. This means we could see a higher volume of seed potatoes exported from the UK, up from 80,000 tonnes last export season.

“Once more Egypt will be a key market for exports; we are likely to see in excess of 50,000 tonnes sent over there.”

AHDB is also exploring other untapped markets interested in UK seed. Rob and his team will be welcoming a delegation from Russia next month to showcase the Scottish sector and increase trade with what is a potentially a very large market.

Rob Burns said: “While the Russian market has been open to seed potatoes for the last few years there has been very little British seed exported. This is partly because there are other markets closer and so transport costs are lower, and partly because there is quite a complicated process to gain access.

“However, it is a huge potential market and the fall in the value of the pound could make our seed an even more attractive proposition.”

The importance of trade was also highlighted by AHDB’s Head of Exports Peter Hardwick, who spoke to the 200 delegates at the event about Brexit and the threats and opportunities for the seed potato sector. He noted while only a small proportion of our seed exports go to the EU, it’s not only EU-based trade relationships which could be impacted by Brexit.

“We could find other trade deals interrupted where they rely on EU trade agreements and are based on EU regulations,” Peter explained. “For example consider our relationship with Egypt where we export large volumes of seed. We have an Association Agreement there which is based on being within the EU, therefore we need to ensure that something else replaces it when we leave. This is of course entirely possible but does require focus and resource to make sure it happens. The last thing an industry heavily reliant on exports needs is unexpected obstacles stopping our goods from getting to key markets.”

The Seed Industry Event is a biennial event which focuses on the issues that matter for those involved in seed potatoes and the supply chain, from research to marketing. The event also features the announcement of the 20th winner of the British Potato Industry Award, and the winner of the inaugural Above and Beyond Award.

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