AYRSHIRE early potatoes are to be granted PGI status by the EU at the end of this month, after a three-year campaign to provide protection for the brand.

The milder climate and sandy soils of the West Coast allowed the production of early potato varieties for Ayrshire potato growers, which gives them a unique skin and flavour compared to potatoes harvested later.

Chairman of Girvan Early Growers, Drew Young, from Girvan Mains, was one of the main drivers behind the push for protected status and said it ‘had been a long time coming.’

“There are now around 10 growers in Ayrshire and you’d be lucky if there were 1000 acres planted with potatoes this season – there used to be 10,000 to 15,000 acres. It is really important that we protect the Ayrshire name and since the beginning I have been involved with the PGI process, meeting with the then farming minister, Richard Lochhead at the Highland Show three years ago.

“It has been a lengthy process to get to where we are now, but we will have to wait a little longer to feel the benefits of the PGI status, as the news has come late in the season for this year’s crop.”

Mr Young said the PGI status only protected the Ayrshire name between May to the end of July to cover the ‘early’ status, so any benefits won’t truly be felt till next year. “Our early varieties produce a unique fluffy skin, but after July, they have a set skin like other potatoes in regions like Angus and Perthshire, so we aren’t covered with the PGI after this period.

“Hopefully, we can begin to push this as a marketing tool for next season and begin to reap the rewards of the PGI status.”

Crops policy manager for NFUS, Peter Loggie, also welcomed the PGI status: “This will give an added level of confidence to buyers of early potatoes, that if they buy ‘Ayrshire Earlies’ or ‘Ayrshire New Potatoes’, then they will be buying not just a small salad potato but one that has the superior taste of a true new potato.”

He quelled concerns that the new protected status could be under threat in the event of the UK leaving the EU: “In terms of Brexit, the UK Government has said that it will essentially transfer all UK PGI products into a UK equivalent. In the EU, there are products with PGI status which are not produced in EU countries, so having been granted the EU designation that should be retained post-Brexit.”

However, SNP MEP, Alyn Smith – a member of the Agriculture Affairs Committee of the European Parliament – was not convinced that PGI status would be maintained: “This is great news for Ayrshire farmers. Ayrshire Earlies are now one of 15 PGIs in Scotland that protect our high-quality products from counterfeit across both Europe and the rest of the world.

“The good news is, of course, overshadowed by the threat that the newly-gained protection could only be valid for a matter of weeks if the Tories drag Scotland out of the UK without a deal to continue PGI protections,” he warned. “As a returning member of the European Parliament agriculture committee, I will continue to everything I can to stop Brexit and keep this important protection.”