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Lab Testing: Unfortunate Cost or Priority Investment?

No matter how excellent your product, your business will only be as successful as the customer service you offer. Though that sentence is so often repeated it’s become cliché, it is also absolute reality. For seed potato growers, offering excellent customer service means anticipating and meeting all of a customer’s needs, from reliable product to knowledgeable answers to seed quality verifications and regulatory requirements.

Seed potato customers’ needs differ depending on both where their seed originates and where it will ultimately be planted. Laws in certain jurisdictions, including the United States, require specific field inspection reports and post-harvest test results on all seed potatoes. Though no similar regulatory requirements exist here in Canada, the industry bar is set far higher than our laws expressly state. Currently, essentially every lot sold in Canada is post-harvest tested. In addition to testing for customers’ requirements, we highly recommend that seed lots destined for a seed grower’s own fields be tested as well.

In order to ensure you can provide timely, appropriate information on your seed lots, keep careful records of your product, communicate early and openly with your customers about their requirements and the current growing conditions, and be proactive and prompt about completing necessary inspections and testing, keeping in mind that some post-harvest tests can take three or more weeks to complete. It is in the customer’s best interests to visit a field for inspection and to request specific post-harvest reports; it is the grower’s responsibility to ensure requested testing is matched to the appropriate lot.

Depending upon where the seed is grown, certain diseases may be more prevalent in some areas than others. Alberta’s higher organic matter and higher pH soils are conducive to scab in dry years; Eastern Canada’s higher moisture and humidity mean maritime fields should always be tested for blackleg and blight. That said, year to year growing conditions can vary greatly. As a case in point: in a particularly wet year, Alberta fields can also be susceptible to moisture-loving diseases.

Expect seed potato buyers from eastern parts of Canada and the U.S. to also show increasing concern in the various strains of Dickeya. Though the pathogen is non-regulated in Canada, its devastating impact of up to 50 per cent yield losses mean growers have reason to be wary. Currently, labs are just getting geared up to test for Dickeya. Seed growers shipping to customers located in eastern parts of this continent might be wise to proactively test those lots for Dickeya when they do their regular post-harvest lab tests.

Although lab testing is expensive, it needs to be viewed as a vital investment in the future of your business, your customer’s business, and the industry as a whole.

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