SCOTLAND’s seed potatoes are highly prized, sought after by farmers across the world because our scientists, our farmers, and our climate deliver disease-free, reliable tubers.

Before Brexit, 77,000 tonnes of seed potato left our shores – with 20,000 of those tonnes heading to European nations. Seed potatoes from the UK are no longer allowed into the EU, and that is hitting Scottish businesses hard.

Andrew Skea’s farm lies in Auchterhouse, a little flurry of houses and fields which sweep from the Sidlaws towards Dundee. He specialises in heritage, organic, and conservation varieties which are hugely popular in Germany and Sweden.

“We used to sell 40 high-value varieties, but we have lost our exports completely – half of our sales,” he says. “We had a domestic market of 500 million people. That’s been cut to 50m. The UK market alone just isn’t enough to keep some varieties going. It took me 20 years to grow the business to have enough to sell to meet the demand.

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“Even if we got back into the EU, it would take me another 10 years to build it again – it would take three seasons to grow enough potatoes even to have the volume for the market. We kept hoping a resolution would be found which would allow us to trade with the EU again.”

There has been shock in the international community about the way in which Westminster has approached its obligations to the international treaty it signed with Europe.

There is a feeling among political observers that the European Union is using the valuable seed potato sector as leverage with the UK Government and there has been much dismay in the way politicians seem prepared to sacrifice farming – and our crucial food security – in the process.

There was outrage recently when Scottish farmers learned the EU ban on seed potatoes was a one-way deal and that some English growers were importing seed potatoes from Europe, rather than from their Scottish counterparts. Andrew Connon, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland, said: “The UK Government is allowing this loophole rather than standing strong for Scottish farmers. We think the trade deal should be reciprocal.

“We need to sort it out but it all comes down to politics. The UK Government is in denial to reality, whether it is seed potatoes, trade deals, the lack of labour, or the impact of fuel costs on food production.”

Connon and his colleagues were over at the European Commission earlier this year, working to get Scottish seed potatoes back onto European farms. He said: “We told them, ‘this is an issue of food security’. Your farmers want our seed. We were told, ‘you chose to leave’.

“Then Defra [the UK Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs] told us just to look for new markets. We have big challenges ahead of us.”

Back in Auchterhouse, Skea and his family are working hard to try to plug the huge gap left by the loss of European sales. They set up “The Potato House”, selling a range of organic and conservation seed potatoes directly to gardeners who appreciate the flavour and value of heritage varieties.

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“We used to go through intermediaries, garden centres and the like, but now we sell 60 varieties direct to the public online,” Skea said. “We sold 250,000 seed potatoes last year. It no way makes up for the European trade we have lost, and we have cut our range significantly, but it is a welcome addition. I feel I’m due some luck.”

We face an uncertain year ahead. Brexit, the war in Ukraine and the impact of climate change are hitting our farmers hard. The cost of producing food is rocketing.

The political choices which are causing the cost-of-living crisis are made in a London that refuses to listen. Perhaps it is little wonder that more people are reaching out to businesses like The Potato House and turning a patch of land over to tatties, that traditional Scottish mainstay.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign.