An import ban on seed potatoes from Europe could cause a shortage of chipping potatoes and result in higher prices next year, a leading trader for seed potatoes has warned.
EU legislation blocked UK seed potatoes from entering Europe from 1st January as a result of the Brexit trade agreement not including third-country equivalence for seed potatoes. This is the process whereby the European Commission decides whether a non-EU country’s regulatory, supervisory and enforcement regime is equivalent to its own.
An application by the UK government to the European Commission to secure the equivalence status was twice rejected, resulting in DEFRA relying on its own plant health requirement legislation and, in turn, putting a block any potato seed entering the UK from Europe as of 1st July.
The UK imports somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 tonnes of seed from Europe a year, which can produce anywhere upwards of 360,000 tonnes of potatoes.
While not all those potatoes are destined for the UK fish and chip shop market, many of the seed varieties imported produce potatoes that are popular with shops, such as Agria, Markies and Ramos.
Ross Haynes, who provides seed potatoes to growers and farmers on behalf of Rush Group, says this will mean UK farmers having to revert to other home-grown varieties which may not produce the high yields or be suitable for frying, resulting in supply issues and price increases.
“The ban on seed imports means some popular varieties of chipping potatoes run the risk of falling short,“ explains Ross. “Ramos, for example, is a very popular potato and probably about 25% - 30% of the UK-grown Ramos area is reliant on continental seed. Markies, is another market leader, which relies heavily on continental seed used by UK farmers.
“Now, Agria, that's the biggest one because the majority of Agria grown in the UK is from continental seed. Normally the UK imports between 7,500 and 10,000+ tonnes, which at the moment isn’t coming. So these varieties will go short.”
While Ross says the impact won’t be felt immediately - the next crop is already in the process of being lifted - it will hit towards the middle of next year. “The next crop, weather permitting, will be planted in March and April, that’s the crop that’s going to be affected because farmers who would normally be planning and buying the seed now can’t get any from Europe.”
It is thought that UK potato growers will be able to plug the gap if they act quickly enough, however, it may mean fish and chip shops trying new varieties of chipping potatoes.
Ross adds: “The only option to get seed is to get it from the UK but the question is how quickly can the UK produce that shortfall? At the moment nobody knows because no one has really taken stock of the situation.
“If I was a breeder, I would actually be thinking this is a good time to develop new seed varieties, varieties that produce improved yields, that are better for the environment and that are actually more profitable so that we can get away from the reliance of imported seed coming to the UK.
“What it also means is that fish and chip shops have to broaden their horizons a little bit too. Next year they may not be able to get a regular supply of their usual potatoes and they may have to be open to trying new varieties too.”