A well-established 25,000 tonne seed potato market looks like it could be killed off by a no-deal Brexit.
A letter circulated to industry stakeholders signed jointly by Defra and Scottish Government has made it clear that exports to EU countries would stop immediately under such circumstances.
It says bluntly: “The European Commission has stated that without an agreement seed potatoes will not be marketable in the EU.”
Annual seed potato exports from Scotland are normally stated as totaling between 70,000 and 80,000 tonnes but critically that does not include the 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes which goes to EU countries with Spain and Ireland the major customers.
Gerry Saddler, chief officer of SASA, the government body which supervises the seed sector said; “The figures are imprecise because for the trade within the EU the seed label on each container is in effect the plant passport. There is no need for a separate phytosanitary certificate.”
To add salt to the wounds of Scottish producers it seems that there are no plans to restrict the flow in the opposite direction. This is apparently because of Defra fears that restricting English growers from accessing primarily Dutch seed would limit their ability to supply UK supermarkets with the varieties they demand.
Dr Saddler said: “ I can see that Defra has worries about food supplies but my big concern is that the voice of the Scottish seed producer is not being taken into account.”
Speaking from his demonstration plots at Potatoes in Practice, Andrew Skea of Angus-based seed producing company Skea Organics said he was at risk of seeing a market he had developed in Germany over 15 years ceasing overnight.
He said: “ Our trade all over the EU is built on repeat business and whether it is a lorry load or a 100kg pallet there is minimal paperwork.
“Last year I sent a single pallet of seed to Switzerland, which is of course not an EU member and the lorry, which was carrying a mixed cargo sat for hours at the border while the phytosanitary certificate was checked.”
The seed potato sector may have well justified fears over Brexit but leaving the EU could open up opportunities for the potato industry as a whole according to David Swales of AHDB.
“Tariff-free access is critical for most sectors but for potatoes barriers might present opportunities for import substitution, particularly in the processing sector,“ he told a seminar audience at Potatoes in Practice.
“The processors are already investing, “he continued.
“Some of Scotland’s specific challenges come from the type of land available when this is coupled with a less favourable post- Brexit outlook for the general cropping sector many businesses will want to maximize potential potato opportunities.”
AHDB has recently launched an on-line Brexit calculator which allows growers to input their own data to see what effects various trade and regulatory scenarios would have.