Without a top quality seed supply chain ware growers would be at the mercy of imports, warned Norfolk farmer Tony Bambridge, speaking at AHDB’s Seed Industry Event in St Andrews. They could survive on imported stocks, he said, but that would not be a good place to be.
High levels of expertise, well-resourced businesses and the availability of excellent scientific support provide British ware growers with high-grade seed, said Tony Bambridge of B&C Farming, Marsham, Norfolk. By buying seed in the UK, there are no exchange rate uncertainties, providing better economic security for both ware growers and their customers.
‘There are still some untapped opportunities which could help our industry grow,’ he insisted, but he warned that the industry is vulnerable because of its reliance on just 30 pre-basic seed producers who have outstanding expertise but do not have time on their side.
‘Money attracts talent and the industry needs to attract younger members who will learn their skills from them. We are becoming a sexy industry which is both dynamic and science led, so we need to signpost and encourage young people to enter our industry.’
Finding solutions to the challenges facing the potato sector will need to start with a long, hard look at the supply chain, Mr Bambridge suggested. ‘Trading has got us where we are today but to continue to grow we need to take risks…we also need to ensure a sustainable return.
‘Seed production needs to be at the heart of the industry as a platform for business and high on the agenda of packers, processors and the final customer. However, in many cases, it is almost an afterthought,’ he continued. ‘We need to be on the front foot, talking to the retailers, raising our profile and influence so others understand more about the seed production chain.’
Longevity of the seed industry is of real concern. Mr Bambridge sees Scotland as being the best place in the UK for growing seed potatoes, and well supported by scientific capability, but the fly in the ointment is the fact that the sector is limited by finite land availability as more growers move to producing ware.
‘There is increasing pressure from disease resulting from closer rotations and also the proximity of other crops,’ he argued. ‘Once land is damaged by potato cyst nematodes (PCN), soil-borne pathogens and non-persistent viruses vectored by aphids, it cannot go back to producing high-grade seed.’
Short term gains for a few which were impacting on the long-term interests of the seed sector are also an area of concern. ‘We need to consider how we get security and rigour of the protected regions once the legislation is lost.’
See our January/February edition for the full article