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Potatoes In Practice
2010 should provide better returns for Scottish potato growers according to Allan Stevenson, the chairman of the Potato Council.
He was speaking at Potatoes in Practice, the main potato demonstration event in Scotland, which is held on the outskirts of Dundee, when he gave his upbeat view on the prospects for this year’s crop.
First of all, a reduced acreage went into the ground this Spring in the UK and this combined with expected lower yields should bring potato growers higher returns for their crop.
The news for Scottish growers is even better, with Stevenson reckoning the crops in this part of the world are looking good compared with those in the potato growing areas of England, where there has been a shortage of water during the growing season and where they have come to early maturity without realising full cropping potential.
The other part of the financial equation for potato growers depends on consumption and while he admitted that there was a “long term structural decline” in the amount of potatoes being eaten, he claimed the efforts of the Potato Council in reversing this trend were being successful.
Part of the problem for potatoes is that they are perceived by some consumers as being time consuming to prepare and in this era of fast food, this was seen as a negative. However, the Potato Council has been behind a campaign to persuade consumers, especially those in the younger end of the demographic scale that potatoes could provide a meal in ten minutes and Stevenson said this seemed to be making a difference.
The UK is largely self sufficient in fresh potatoes but there is still a volume that comes in as processed for the lower end of the catering trade, he stated.
Stevenson rejected a view that the UK processing sector were ‘behind the game’ in bringing forward new and innovative products. In his travels around the world, he said this was not the case.
Next month, Stevenson, will return to China to continue the battle to open their market for seed potatoes. Although China is the largest producer of potatoes in the whole world with an annual production of 75million tonnes (compared with UK production at less than 6 million tonnes) it did not have a very developed market as yet with the vast majority of the tonnage both hand planted and hand lifted.
Previous efforts to remove trade barriers to China have resulted in allowing minituber production but this specialist system has not been taken up.
Stevenson, said that while he hoped to persuade the Chinese to take away the barrier preventing field scale seed being sent out from Scotland, he did not believe there would ever be any great tonnage traded.
However, he argued the side benefits for other parts of the potato industry could be immense. This was especially so with a major transformation taking place in the retail sector in China, where one of the UK major retailers aims to build some 80 supermarkets.
“Currently there is no structure in their potato industry to supply that type of demand but if we can help by exporting high quality seed there could be wider benefits.”