Following a fifth year of record sales last year and all the stops being pulled out to exploit a host of global opportunities, as visitors to AHDB Potatoes’ BP2015 (bp2015.co.uk) event in Harrogate will witness on November 12-13. In 2014-2015 seed exports beyond the EU were up 15.5% on the previous year, to a highest-ever total of 90,000t. In Scotland, which accounts for around 80% of UK seed potato exports, the sector is estimated to be worth £80-100 million, and growing. “There is a distinct buzz in the seed export market, which is doing really well, trading on our positive position on plant health, with freedom from Dickeya, brown rot and ring rot,” says Robert Burns, Head of Seed & Export at AHDB Potatoes’ Edinburgh office. “So it is really all about staying on top of that, through diligence and attention to detail.” Most of the growth came from a market share jump in Egypt, which now accounts for 58% of all GB seed exports. “We spend a lot of time there talking to plant health officials about the quality, vigour and very positive plant health status of our seed,” he says.
Indeed, GB seed’s freedom from bacterial diseases Dickeya, brown rot and ring rot has now pushed Dutch seed off the top spot. “It is something our EU competitors can’t claim, but we can, thanks to our island status, cooler climate and continuing efforts to remain disease free. Our flush-through system, with a maximum of seven generations of seed multiplication, the Safe Haven certification scheme, no seed imported into Scotland, and no stock taken from the bottom of the process to the top through clonal selection, all contribute to this.”
But the sales surge in Egypt is a two-edged sword. “It’s a lot of eggs in one basket, and one variety, Hermes,” says Mr Burns. “It is a huge risk if there was ever a problem.” So, efforts are being made to develop new markets, to spread risk and make the most of new varietal requirements and differences in climates/seasons