Research on how the Scottish potato industry could look in 2040 was presented on the James Hutton Institute stand at Potatoes in Practice.
Putting the impact of Brexit to one side, the research used scenario planning to encourage industry stakeholders to look forward, explained JHI research assistant Carol Kyle. Visitors to last year’s Potatoes in Practice had given their views on the future of the industry.
In the first scenario, ‘Salvation through Science’, with technology driving innovation, there had been a growth in the market for potato based biocomposites and alternative foodstuffs. There were more potato varieties available, many being niche, suiting the export market but there had been little success on the true potato seed front.
The retailer was king, influencing consumption patterns. There was a continuation of the trend towards processed potatoes.
Modern plant breeding techniques, including gene editing had played a big part in the success of expanding markets and pesticides were no longer in use. Scotland’s potato sector had consolidated and crept northwards due to climate change, which had also created new markets.
In the second scenario, ‘Survival of the Fittest’, Scotland had high health status with a low virus risk, with 100 per cent PCN testing on all potato growing land. About 80 per cent of potatoes were exported to China and India to be processed.
Maris Piper was ‘king’ and conventional breeding techniques were still the norm. High pesticide regulation meant waste was high and alternative uses for damaged potatoes were being developed e.g. butanol, ethanol and bioplastics.
The industry had consolidated. Cost of production was high, lack of labour was an issue and Scottish producers were finding it difficult to compete on the world stage.
In the third scenario, ‘In a Pesticide Free World’ labour was in short supply and subsidies were no longer available, resulting in an increase in large businesses. China was investing in the innovation sector and was a major business partner.
High pesticide regulation had resulted in elevated incidences of serious disease outbreaks and reduced yields. The industry relied more on successful breeding techniques, there was an increase in the used of varietal mixes and intercropping and a dependence on bio-control agents to combat pests and diseases.
Strong international competition, combined with a low export market had resulted in Scotland becoming isolated but there was a thriving domestic market for predominantly processed potato products.