A valuable cargo of premium Scottish seed potatoes has reportedly been turned back from Egypt, at a cost traders estimate to be in the region of £1.5 million.
It is understood 1,500 tonnes of Hermes seed potatoes from five or six suppliers is currently in limbo in Alexandria, after the load was rejected by Egyptian authorities because it failed to meet a December export deadline by one day.
The companies who are believed to be involved did not respond to calls but industry insiders say that the combined price of the potatoes, shipping costs and returning the shipment to the UK would be in the region of £1.5 million.
The news emerged as leading Scottish seed potato exporters told an online conference that the risks of international trading now outweigh the rewards.
Alistair Melrose of Perth-based Caledonia Potatoes and J&E Smillie confirmed that his companies were currently facing an “unfortunate situation through no fault of our own”.
He said seed potatoes destined for export had been delivered to the port in good time to sail but didn’t make the sailing deadline.
“That has caused us problems and we’ll lose a lot of money on the back of that,” he said.
“So we do have to question what we’re doing going forward with exports in the next two or three weeks.”
Sandy McGowan of Milnathort-based Cygnet PEP Ltd agreed that the risks involved in exporting seed potatoes had increased dramatically in the last 13 months.
Mr McGowan, who is president of the British Potato Trade Association, told the conference: “While demand seems to be on the increase, what certainly isn’t on the increase is the access to shipping logistics.
“In Scotland we are particularly poorly served by logistics in comparison not only to the rest of the UK but in particular our competitors across Europe. So at this moment there is an imbalance in terms of risk versus reward.
“We have a product that’s in demand around the world, but what we are failing on is the ability to deliver in a timely fashion what the customer wants, and that can’t be laid at the door of the grower in Scotland or the customer at the receiving end – so there’s something failing in the supply chain.
“We had an opportunity to supply several hundred tonnes of seed to a customer in North Africa that wasn’t Egypt and we couldn’t find the logistical solution, but Dutch exporters have put 7,000 tonnes of seed into that market.
“Just the North Sea between us and them has caused it.”
Colm McDonnell of the Irish Potato Marketing (IPM) group told the conference his country had been in a similar situation to Scotland 20 to 25 years ago, and because of the risk-reward situation seed potato exports had ceased completely 14 years ago.
He added: “I’m not saying Scotland will go through the same thing but growers were faced with a choice of growing seed for export or going into livestock or ware production. They had to follow where the money was.”