Scottish farmers’ co-operative targets Asia for exports of seed potatoes

Sandy McGowan and David Murdie.

Grampian Growers is upbeat about the seed tattie industry’s post-Brexit prospects.

They say they just need to crack the huge 12-year challenge of breeding a brand new potato to meet the demands of future global markets.

The co-op’s potato manager is David Murdie who believes global trade will be unaffected by the UK’s departure from Europe.

“We have a commodity we’re producing in Scotland that’s such high quality and in such high demand I don’t think Brexit will make any difference to the market,” he said.

However Grampian Growers traders admit they’re uncomfortable about Scotland’s reliance on a small concentration of international seed potato destinations. The main market lies south of the border in England, but stark statistics show the Scottish seed trade’s heavy dependence on the Egyptian market, with 55,000 tonnes of the total seed export of 84,500 tonnes exported there this year. The next most important market is Morocco, which took 9,000 tonnes.

The co-op is now ambitious to expand the range of countries on its books – and south-east Asia has emerged as a top target.

Grampian Growers and its Bennett Seed Exports subsidiary believes huge opportunities exist in Thailand and Indonesia. They have already dipped a toe into the Thai market with a 125-tonne shipment and are optimistic that they can multiply that trade by 10 this year.

The company’s general manager, Sandy McGowan, is leading the south-east Asia drive and says that while tonnages are currently modest, the potential to build on them is enormous. He will make initial visits to both countries later this summer.

“When you look at the export figures it’s obvious that as a business we need to be involved in something different,” he said.

“The key thing for us is to get boots on the ground. We’re focused on free varieties at the moment because they’re a means of delivering our own varieties into these markets in the future.”

The variety that is in demand in south-east Asia is Atlantic which is tricky to grow to the high seed health standards demanded by importers, and Mr McGowan says it is being accepted because of Bennett Seeds’ strong reputation.

“Scotland and the Indonesian authorities have a cross compliance, intergovernmental agreement on standards, and the level of virus and skin surface disease allowed on the tuber is very tight – but nothing that is impossible to achieve here in Scotland,” said Mr McGowan.

Supporting all the co-op’s seed exports is a long-established network of government agencies, leading institutes like the James Hutton Institute and top agronomy advice from SAC and Scottish Agronomy.

Mr Murdie said: “Farmers are doing a first-class job and there’s a huge team effort in Scotland.

“Nobody in any country in Europe is going to start up a potato industry with the logistics that we already have in Scotland. We’ve been doing it for 120 years and we have some very big advantages here.”