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AHDB working to develop export markets for British seed potatoes

After spending 2018 opening the doors to new markets for British seed potatoes, the AHDB Exports team will focus in 2019 on strengthening relationships with existing markets.

While recent successes have seen access to GB seed approved in both China and Kenya, exporters are also keen to increase tonnage to key countries such as Egypt and Morocco. 

Developing markets in Africa

2018 saw two major successes in terms of future markets for GB exporters, the first of which was in Kenya. Three potato varieties were recommended for release thanks to the joint efforts of AHDB, James Hutton Ltd, SASA and Seeds2B Africa (part of the Syngenta Foundation). 

The journey began early in 2017 when ten potato varieties were trialled in Kenya at three separate farms over two seasons. Cara yielded very strongly over the course of both seasons with a combined average yield of 52 tonnes per hectare. However, the top performer was Lady Balfour at 56 tonnes per hectare, while Gemson yielded 42 tonnes per hectare on average. 

The approval of those three varieties opened the door for GB producers to export to Kenya where potatoes are the second most important food crop after maize. About 2-3 million tonnes of potatoes are grown annually, however most farmers use home-saved seed and achieve yields of as little as 10 tonnes per hectare. 

As Kenya is keen to approve more processing varieties the team have resubmitted Hermes for a third season. 

According to Jackie Gibson, Export liaison for SASA, “The three varieties recommended for release so far have only been approved as table varieties. While processing variety Hermes performed very well in both seasons its average yield of 41 tonnes per hectare was very slightly too low to be recommended for release.”

“However with processing varieties they are looking for at least 21% dry matter content and as Hermes has a recorded dry matter of 23% we believe with a third season of trials and additional testing it can achieve recommendation as a processing variety.”

Now varieties bred in Britain have been recommended for release in Kenya there is now the potential to open neighbouring markets in other African countries. As such, AHDB is now planning an outward mission to Ethiopia to see if they can replicate their success in Kenya.

China opens its doors

Late in 2018 China approved the import of GB seed potatoes after ten years of active discussions involving our Exports team, the Scottish Government and Defra to ensure that GB had a workable protocol which would allow access. 

The deal is expected to bring major benefits to Scotland, with around 70% of the 100,000 tonnes of seed potatoes exported annually from the UK coming from Scottish farms. 

The seed potato export market is already worth an annual £90 million (USD 115 million) to the UK, with some varieties fetching up to £900 per tonne (USD 1150). 

China is the largest consumer of potatoes in the world. As the country’s demand for potato-based foods increases, the humble spud is now China’s fourth staple crop after rice, corn and wheat – with demand increasing at a rapid rate. 

Says Rob Burns, Head of Crops Export Trade Development: “It’s a real coup to be one of the first western countries able to export seed to China and it’s been achieved through a lot of hard work and the great reputation of UK seed potatoes which are rightly renowned around the world for their high health status and high quality.”

“I expect the Chinese market will be particularly interested in processing varieties used for chips and crisps as there is a big demand for those products. AHDB’s role now will be to develop this new trading relationship through events such as large-scale trade shows where exporters can showcase their varieties and start building business in China.”

The first international event that will allow exporters to start building those relationships will be Fruit Logistica Asia which the Exports team will attend later this year, however connections will be established before the summer during an inward mission of Chinese officials hosted by AHDB and SASA. 

Strengthening existing bonds

While new markets are crucial to continued growth in the seed sector, maintaining strong trade volumes to existing markets will be a priority for AHDB in 2019. 

According to Rob Burns, “It’s largely due to developing close trading partnerships with countries like Egypt, Morocco and the Canaries that Scottish seed potato exports have increased from just over 40,000 tonnes in 2001 to over 75,000 tonnes in 2018.”

“We need to make sure we continue to demonstrate to our most loyal customers that our products are of the right quality and specification through regular inward and outward missions.”

These relationships are considered even more vital, and potentially vulnerable, due to uncertainty surrounding future trade deals following Britain’s departure from the EU. Export partnerships with third countries (where the majority of GB seed is exported) have all been negotiated through the EU, which means they will be affected by Brexit, although the extent of the impact is unclear. 

In response AHDB (along with partners such as SASA) plans to host both an inward and outward mission for Egypt in 2019 where government officials and industry can come together to discuss any potential issues or opportunities for growth.

Visit AHDB at Fruit Logistica

The AHDB will be hosting a British stand at Fruit Logistica in Berlin February 6 – 8. If you’re at the show, please visit hall 7.2B, stand number B-03, to make use of networking facilities, and discuss plans with the team.

Source: AHDB

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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