WHILE SCOTTISH seed potatoes are barred from export to the European Union, the seed sector's former customers are seizing the 'Brexit opportunity' of expanding their own seed production.

In the Irish Republic, this week saw proposals for a €3 million scheme of investment aid for its seed potato sector, to accelerate development of capacity and aid improvements in seed potato production, storage and marketing through grant assistance to producers towards their capital costs.

Somewhat ironically, the scheme will be funded utilising funding under the Irish Republic's allocation from the European Union's Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund.

As a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU and following the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021, the import of seed potatoes from Great Britain into the EU remains prohibited.

Announcing the scheme, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, stated: “In recognition of the challenges faced by the Irish potato sector in fulfilling its annual demand for access to high grade seed potato following the exit of the UK from the EU, I am delighted to announce approval of the scheme for this highly specialised farming activity.

“This presents a timely opportunity for the Irish seed potato sector to develop capacity and expand to ensure a reliable supply of domestically produced high grade seed potato material, with the support of the dedicated Seed Certification Service provided by my department and the Tops Potato Centre in Donegal.

“There is great potential in reviving the domestic seed potato sector. I am committed to seeing it thrive once more once there is leadership from within the sector too. I believe we can restore the industry to its heyday nationally."

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Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Senator Pippa Hackett, added: "Ireland is the only EU Member State designated a high health status under EU legislation for the growing of seed potatoes. Investing in the sector to facilitate increased availability of domestically produced high grade seed stocks for Irish ware growers is vitally important to protect our high health status and ensure the potato industry grows to its full potential."

Speaking from Scotland's seed potato growing heartlands, Gordon MP Richard Thomson warned Defra that the 'clock is ticking' for Scottish seed potato exports so long as no progress is being made towards re-opening trade with the EU.

Mr Thomson said: “We were told there would be huge benefits to agriculture from Brexit. In this case, the benefits are entirely flowing to seed potato growers in Ireland as their government recognises a Brexit opportunity and has stepped-up to inject a €3million boost to their own farmers and growers.

“This is an entirely predictable response from the Irish Government – and one which is no more than you would expect from a government which takes farming seriously and recognises an opportunity to benefit its farmers when it sees it.

“The difficulty is that this UK Government has taken its eye off the ball. It was already distracted by the poor behaviour of its Prime Minister and is now consumed with the contest to see who will succeed him. I have again written to Defra on the subject and stated in my letter to Farming Minister Victoria Prentis that the clock is ticking and if action is not taken soon then there may be no going back to established markets such as Ireland because they will have developed their own domestic capacity.”