Just after World War II, my grandfather, Gordon Porter, a forward-thinking, first-generation farmer from Cults, in Fife, built what my father tells me was then the first potato shed in Scotland – much to the bemusement of his neighbours.

Previously, potatoes were stored in outdoor clamps. His timing was serendipitous, as the notorious winter of 1947, when the snow drifts lay much deeper than those of today’s cold snap, meant that the outdoor clamps couldn’t be accessed and grandad had a brief monopoly on potato supply to Dundee.

Although they were all grown for seed, he sold them as ware and bought more seed in the spring. The men were put to work clearing the snow drifts off the road every day after grading as the merchant’s lorries rolled in from Dundee.

They were rationed to a ton and a half each, such was the demand and dad reckoned the shed was paid off in a year.

Over the decades, that brick-built shed has paid for itself many times. In the 1990s, when we first started packing strawberries for supermarkets, it became our packhouse in the summers after a spruce up from its winter job of storing potatoes.

It even survived a riotous 21st birthday ceilidh back in the early 1990s. Happy days.

Sadly, the potatoes in it are not worth the cost of production just now, though I am hopeful this will change in the coming months, as the UK crop at around 5.2m tonnes is not huge.

There remain imbalances in the market due to lockdown and hospitality closures having a big impact on sales of processing varieties, so nothing is certain.

Grandad was a great supporter of research and development. He was chair of the Scottish Crop Research Institute (now JHI), at Invergowrie, for a number of years and he would have been saddened by the vote this week to end the compulsory levy to AHDB Horticulture.

It might be a small consolation to AHDB that in terms of turnover, if not democratic votes, there was a two-thirds majority in favour of keeping the levy.

Grandad was also practical and pragmatic, however, so it is hard to know how he would vote on the levy for AHDB Potatoes which is due shortly. I predict an overwhelming vote in favour of ending it.

There is undoubtedly a need for ongoing research and development, but for many years now I feel the potato arm of AHDB have not paid enough attention to the hand that feeds them. There is a strong groundswell of opinion that growers have not been getting their money’s worth.

Particularly if you are a Scottish grower, it is very unlikely that the £500,000 invested in storage research at Sutton Bridge each year will be of much benefit to you. We know how to cold store potatoes and any improvements are unlikely to benefit the grower.

The weekly price and crop update is interesting and useful for a statistics wonk like me, but when the market is so skewed in favour of packers and retailers, they are the ones who benefit most from this knowledge.

With white potato prices languishing well below the cost of production at £60 (if you can get a sale) the grower is only currently receiving 5-10% of the retail price. For every tonne of potatoes sold, the grower pays a levy of around £1 (£42.62/ha) whereas the purchaser pays just a little more than 18p.

It is simply not fair and because AHDB have been jointly funded in this way, it is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Whatever happens with the ballot and the UK government’s decision thereafter on whether or not to keep the statutory levy, there will still need to be a central organisation focussed on R and D. Things like the useful SPoT farm programme and education are useful.

But my preference would be to ditch the marketing angle and move it to a voluntary levy similar to the highly successful British Summer Fruits, which represents 95% of all soft fruit production and has been a key component for driving the huge increase in soft fruit sales over the past few years.

I would also ditch the purchasers, so we can have an umbrella R and D organisation that is truly focussed on the needs of growers and whose vitally important data is wholly in their hands.

Another area AHDB potatoes (and Assured Produce) have shown a lack of leadership on, in my opinion, is on potato rotation. The simplest way to control PCN is a wide rotation.

Currently, for ware crops, the guidance in Assured Produce is only six years and it is not compulsory. I asked AHDB and Assured Produce to support making it compulsory years ago, but I was informed that it was anti-competitive.

No doubt some growers are also against, as they feel they can control PCN with nematicides, but we are about to lose Vydate and Nemathorin approval is likely to end in 2024, so I think that argument is fading fast, particularly in the current climate where soil health is finally being given the importance it deserves.

The overwhelming argument for introducing a compulsory rotation of seven years is on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions, however. Carbon audits done by SRUC using Agrecalc indicate that CO2 equivalent emissions from potatoes are almost five tonnes/ha in Scotland for a crop that is overproduced, compared to an alternative crop of spring beans which emit only 0.65 tons/ha.

The total area of UK potatoes which is not seed is around 100,000 ha. A widened rotation could reduce that to 85,000 ha, reducing emissions by as much as 60,000 tonnes CO2e annually if beans were grown instead.

For comparison, that is saving the same as almost three million mature trees annually (not newly planted ones). Even spring barley as an alternative would be halfway between beans and potatoes.

It would have to be a UK-wide decision in order to have a level playing field with growers down south, but green is good in English agri-politics right now, so a proposal like this might just receive a favourable reception.

More significantly for me, I’m pretty sure my grandfather would have supported it.