The dollars and cents of farm business success aren’t always as simple as they might first appear. While minimizing costs can seem like a smart business decision, it is exactly the opposite if that up-front savings ends up costing crop quality and/or yield. The purchase of seed is a perfect example: while it can be tempting to buy the least costly seed potatoes available, investing in high quality, tested, disease-free seed will pay dividends virtually every time.
Potatoes are among the most costly crops to grow. While seed is a significant component of the overall cost of production, so too are a host of other expenses including crop inputs, water and water systems, equipment and land. Rather than seeking to minimize individual costs, a producer should analyze expenses as an investment in the ultimate crop. Typically, it costs over $3,000 per acre to grow potatoes. Quality, clean seed that offers maximum germination, better crop vigour, zero disease introduction and ultimately higher yield means production costs can be spread over the maximum possible production. When looked at from a whole-system perspective, it is clearly short-sighted to save $100 per acre by buying second rate seed that will ultimately cap yield or impact quality because of disease, germination or vigour issues.
Canada’s harsh winters naturally fumigate the soil, resulting in excellent quality potatoes being grown in many regions across the country. To best mitigate the potential of pathogen transfer, growers should buy from a seed grower whose fields are isolated from all other potato production.
The rules governing which potatoes are considered acceptable for sale as seed vary across the country. Regardless of the rules in one’s own jurisdiction, growers are wise to opt in favour of caution and information. Seed potato customers should always buy from a certified seed producer who willingly provides post-harvest test results on all of their seed lots. Reputable sellers will always provide germination, vigour and disease testing results from either a visual grow out test, a traditional lab test or both. Results are typically available by March, and all seed purchase agreements should be contingent on results falling within ranges acceptable to the purchaser.
When a deal comes along on second-rate or untested seed potatoes, it can be tempting to save a few dollars by buying cheap. But before opting in that direction, ask yourself one question: given the risks involved in untested seed, can you afford not to buy top quality, clean seed potatoes?