Throughout the world they’re marketed … from Jamaica in the West Indies along the Mediterranean and through the African Continent to South Africa. They’re produced in many parts of Northern Ireland, particularly in counties Down and Londonderry, and their reputation for quality is at least comparable with that of any elsewhere in the world.
They’re Ulster seed potatoes and today they represent an annual value to Northern Ireland of £2 million.
Climatic conditions in Ulster are ideal for the production of healthy and vigorous stocks of seed potatoes, the relatively cool and damp climate being unfavourable for the build-up and movement of the aphids responsible for the spreading of virus diseases.
Seed potatoes have been exported from what now comprises Northern Ireland, at any rate since the beginning of this century, to Malta and the Canary Islands and shortly after that to Algeria, Cyprus and Greece.
The modern seed trade in Northern Ireland derived from these beginnings, stimulated by the demand from importing countries for purity of type and a higher standard of health and by the necessity within Ulster to control the incidence of Wart Disease.
To meet these needs, control measures prohibited the growing of non-immune varieties in affected areas and surrounding buffer areas, while considerable attention was directed to ensuring that stocks were varietally pure.
Certification by the Ministry of Agriculture of seed potato crops of immune varieties was introduced in 1922. Crops reaching the desired standard were designated “Certified Seed,” 20 varieties being certified in that year.
In 1926 certification of non-immune varieties started and by 1930, the year in which “Stock Seed” certification was introduced, the total number of varieties certified had risen to 50, of which however, only 14 are now grown.
The selection and propagation of these stocks was, it is believed, the first time such work had been done on a national scale.
Since that period progress in standards of health and selection has been continuous though it was not till 1960 that “Special Seed Stock” of exceptionally high standard was introduced commercially.
The Seed Potato Marketing Board for Northern Ireland was born in July, 1961. It was brought into being under the Agricultural Marketing Acts to assume responsibility for the marketing of certified crops, the technical control remaining with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Shipments of seed potatoes can only be made by merchants licensed by the Ministry under the Marketing of Potatoes Acts.
These Acts cover the growing, grading, packing and despatch of seed potatoes and since, by virtue of its geographical position, Northern Ireland is dependant on the export of seed, this means that control and inspection can be carried out very effectively.