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Potato imports threaten UK crop

The UK potato crop currently being lifted is back both in yield and in quality, a number of major prepackers are now having to import potatoes from mainland Europe to fulfil their contracts.

Although these potatoes are for eating, there is a potential problem with disease being introduced to farms either through washings or by feeding stock using any potatoes not good enough for prepacking.

All importers are supposed to contact the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) agency which monitors plant health with details of where the potatoes originated.

While there are no concerns about any potatoes coming from France, where some of the imports are known to originate, ring rot and other potentially dangerous bacterial diseases are endemic in Poland and this is the one European country which has produced more potatoes than are needed for its own consumption this year. No-one was available to comment at SASA yesterday but it is known that there are worries over smaller scale importers distributing potatoes in Scotland without making contact with the plant health authorities.

The importations are producing another kind of pain – financial - as many of the prepackers signed early season supply contracts with the major retailers and these are now having to be delivered despite the massive increase in cost in potatoes.

Allan Stevenson, the chairman of the Potato Council and a major grower in East Lothian, described the fulfilment of these contracts as “the big issue in potatoes at the current time”.

He claimed that many farmers and packers were “forced” into signing contracts early in the season on a take-it-or-leave-it basis before this season’s horrendous weather hit yields, affecting quality and increasing costs.

“Farmers and packers who are contracted to supply the fresh market are getting hammered just now and many are losing a lot of money,” he said. “Retailers are just not passing the money down the chain. It is the same story as is happening in the milk and pig sectors.”

Yields of his own crops had ranged from disappointing to very disappointing but he said the whole UK crop was difficult to predict, with some growers reporting reasonable yields while others were in despair over both quality and yield.

The latest market report from the Potato Council refers to samples from all areas having “wastage issues with bruising, greening, secondary growth, growth cracks, scab, slug damage, tuber breakdown, hollow heart, rots associated with water logging and a lack of size”.

To cap that. Stevenson said lifting costs were much higher than normal as growers were struggling to lift their crops in the very frustrating weather.

Source: The Scotsman

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