Scotland grows an estimated 70% of the UK’s organic potatoes – but that's now been put at risk from blight infection because of a bizarre ruling by the Scottish Government.

The UK farming minister has authorised the emergency use of copper hydroxide to control late blight, however the Scottish government ruled against using copper to control the disease.

The banning of copper jeopardises this year's crop and further undermines the future of the 2021 crop as well as posing a serious risk to the £180m Scottish potato industry.

In my capacity as a grower and a former Scotland office minister, I successfully lobbied the UK farming minister to clear copper for emergency use on organic potatoes. Plus, I have been involved in the conventional and organic agri-food industry for over 30 years supplying major supermarkets.

Copper in various forms has been used in my experience for 20-plus years to control late blight in organic crops.

Organic farming in Scotland is growing, it is now an advanced, modern and large-scale part of Scottish agriculture.

The organic industry works relentlessly in trialling resistant varieties, maintaining safe water margins, minimising copper usage and only using any treatment when the risk is critical. The sector is closely controlled and independently audited.

There is a long-term commitment to the sector underpinned by huge private investment. Precision farming tools, such as infrared and GPS guidance, along with selective and targeted nutrition maximises disease control in the field.

Scottish growers and packers have made significant investment with automated pack houses, including optical sorting and robotic technology. Therefore, in my opinion, the sector has been put at risk without adequate thought.

The Scottish government minister has deferred to the advice of the Health and Safety Executive and the UK expert committee and declined the emergency use of copper. This is in contrast to the UK minister, who took into account the product had been cleared in the EU until 2025 and the historic use of the product.

Put simply, if the Scottish crop rots, the UK will import organic potatoes from other parts of the EU, many of which allow the use of copper hydroxide.

Only at the beginning of July, Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, after being briefed on the matter said he would be 'pressing Defra for a positive outcome'.

He subsequently handed the matter over to the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment minister, Mairi Gougeon. She is a capable minster with whom I had the pleasure of dealing with during an outbreak of spontaneous BSE in my constituency in 2018.

I suggest the minister reviews the fungicide decision. “Scottish ministers have arranged for functions related to regulating plant protection products to be exercised by the HSE on our behalf,” Scottish government officials wrote.

Having been a UK minister, I recognise the dilemma, but this is why we have democratically elected politicians and that they have to make judgements based on a variety of sometimes differing views.

This decision is made against a backdrop of the Scottish government protesting against UK government plans to protect the UK internal market. Well over 70% of Scottish farm produce goes to English consumers.

In the wider economy, £50bn, or 60% of Scottish exports, is within the UK internal market. That is why a level playing field is essential. Scoring political points by creating difference has real world consequences.

Consider if there were different livestock regulations, pesticides rules differing in Scotland and England – would Scottish producers not be at a severe disadvantage and the internal market undermined?

What possible logic is there to creating barriers with our main export destination? The Scottish government are proposing an EU continuity bill, rather than the UK internal market legislation. Consider which is better for Scottish farming?

Different fungicide regulation, as in this case, will allow English and EU growers to protect crops against late blight. Meanwhile, Scottish organic growers work in an unsubsidised sector responding to market demand, meeting consumer demand for an added value product – but do not have the benefit of this important disease control method.

Furthermore, without blight protection, organic crops will pose an existential risk to nearby conventional crops.

Growers will also have to choose to desiccate crops before they have reached maximum size and yield, thus jeopardising their financial viability, let alone risking neighbouring conventional crops.

This is not a matter of political parties and should not be about two governments working against one another. It should be about what is best for the Scottish industry.

The farming lobby should ask what is constructive about disagreement over definitions of farming related key workers; seasonal workers; primary legislation in the UK agricultural bill; and convergence payments, let alone pesticide regulations? The UK internal market and common frameworks is vital for Scottish farmers.

I implore the Scottish minister to engage with industry, for NFU Scotland to lobby the Scottish government and keep the UK internal market on a level playing field. Thousands of acres and millions of £s are at stake because of political point scoring.