The Potato Council has accused amateur gardeners of spreading potato blight – leading to poor harvests and price rises.
But gardening groups leapt to defend Britain’s growing band of allotment and kitchen gardeners, stating that a host of factors were to blame for blight this summer.
Chairman of the Potato Council, Allan Stevenson told The Grocer magazine: “People should be encouraged to grow their own veg to learn about the origins of their food, but blight risk is real and it would be preferable if people bought healthy, well-produced potatoes from a retailer, rather than grow-their-own.”
A spokesman for the Royal Horticultural Society’s science department described the Potato Council’s comments as “unhelpful” and “not true”.
He said: “The high price of spuds and low yields is due to late planting in May/June instead of April, low light levels in June, flood damage, high levels of blackleg due to wet weather on seed crops last year and late lifting due to the difficulty of getting machinery onto wet soil, leading to low quality tubers which have a limited storage potential.
“It is true that more blight has been reported from allotments but this, we would suggest, is because many allotmenteers have become registered blight scouts for the British Potato Council and more eyes mean more reports. It should be noted there are few allotments near big commercial producers.”
Thompson & Morgan pointed out that warm, moist conditions this summer had been ideal for the spread of blight, making it “unlikely that the blame can be put on any one set of potato growers”.
T&M sells blight-resistant Sarpo spuds, bred by the Sarvari Research Trust. Sarvari director Dr David Shaw said: “Why do gardeners bother to grow their own? Because they do not want to buy ‘well-produced potatoes’ sprayed every week with fungicide.”
Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don said the Potato Council had been in touch wanting to talk. Monty told fans on Twitter: “I’m happy to make it clear that gardeners will not be commercial growers’ whipping boys.”