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Organic potatoes: Scottish crop put at risk by politicking, says former Minister

Scotland grows an estimated 70% of the UK’s organic potatoes – but that’s now been put at risk from blight infection because of a bizarre ruling by the Scottish Government. So writes Colin Clark, former Scotland Office Minister with responsibility for food and farming, in an article published by The Scottish Farmer.

Mr Clark writes that the UK farming minister has authorised the emergency use of copper hydroxide to control late blight, however the Scottish government ruled against using copper to control the disease.

“The banning of copper jeopardises this year’s crop and further undermines the future of the 2021 crop as well as posing a serious risk to the £180m Scottish potato industry,” Mr Clark writes.

“In my capacity as a grower and a former Scotland office minister, I successfully lobbied the UK farming minister to clear copper for emergency use on organic potatoes. Plus, I have been involved in the conventional and organic agri-food industry for over 30 years supplying major supermarkets.

“Copper in various forms has been used in my experience for 20-plus years to control late blight in organic crops. Organic farming in Scotland is growing, it is now an advanced, modern and large-scale part of Scottish agriculture.”

Mr Clark writes that the organic industry works relentlessly in trialling resistant varieties, maintaining safe water margins, minimising copper usage and only using any treatment when the risk is critical. The sector is closely controlled and independently audited.

There is a long-term commitment to the sector underpinned by huge private investment. Precision farming tools, such as infrared and GPS guidance, along with selective and targeted nutrition maximises disease control in the field, Mr Clark writes.

He says Scottish growers and packers have made significant investment with automated pack houses, including optical sorting and robotic technology. Therefore, in my opinion, the sector has been put at risk without adequate thought.

“The Scottish government minister has deferred to the advice of the Health and Safety Executive and the UK expert committee and declined the emergency use of copper. This is in contrast to the UK minister, who took into account the product had been cleared in the EU until 2025 and the historic use of the product.”

Read the full article in The Scottish Farmer here
Photo: Colin Clark | The Scottish Farmer

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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