The UK and Brussels are being urged to resolve their differences on seed potato exports – so shipments can resume to and from the European Union.
The EU has refused to accept UK shipments of seed potatoes since January – although EU shipments to the UK can continue until June. Brussels has rejected an equivalence request which would enable full trade to resume in both directions.
Each year, some 30,000t of UK seed potatoes worth some £13m are exported to the EU. The potential loss of that market could see British growers lose a significant part of their income – with some farms under threat.
‘Future at stake’
The Pre Basic Growers Association, which represents UK seed potato growers, wants a ban on imports of seed potatoes from the EU by 1 July unless reciprocal trading arrangements are agreed.
Some 28,000t of EU seed potatoes are imported into the UK annually. Association member and UK seed potato exporter Andrew Skea, of breeders Skea Organics, said UK seed production could offset any shortfall.
“Our export markets have been built up over many years,” said Mr Skea. “Growers face a significant loss of business which would be very difficult to retrieve – for some the future of their businesses is at stake.”
The association comprises more than 40 mainly Scottish seed potato growers who produce early generations of high grade seed potatoes. This pre-basic seed underpins the UK’s seed potato industry.
Defra secretary George Eustice has pledged to continuing raise the issue with the EU to ensure that full trade resumes as soon as possible.
But Brussels maintains that the UK is not ‘dynamically aligned’ with the EU so equivalence cannot be granted.
Rapid resolution needed
Meanwhile, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board says seed potato growers need the situation to be rapid resolved. Ideally, this would see the UK gain third country listed status for seed potatoes.
AHDB head of potato export development Patrick Hughes said: “It is now likely that dialogue through official channels will run on for several months, leading to the remaining exports destined for the EU not reaching their destination in time for planting.
Mr Hughes added: “It equally does not provide UK growers with any certainty when making planting decisions, as the likelihood of a resolution in the short to medium term is diminishing by the day.”