It is partly about the customer always being right. A research project at the University of Saskatchewan, funded by the Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food's (SAF) Agriculture Development Fund, is looking to ensure Saskatchewan-grown seed potatoes are always welcome in countries like Mexico.

"Saskatchewan has a well-deserved reputation for producing some of the best seed potatoes anywhere," says Doug Waterer of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan, who, along with Jill Thompson, is conducting the project. "The growers have been very successful in terms of expanding their markets, so Saskatchewan is supplying seed potatoes basically right across Canada. We have been very successful in moving product into the United States as well, and Saskatchewan is recognized as having excellent seed potatoes by American growers. But we are looking at other horizons. Mexico has a large potato industry.

"They are very interested in high-quality seed, but they have extremely stringent disease standards. And you can appreciate that, if you are sending a load of seed all the way down to Mexico, you want to avoid even the slightest possibility that it will not be accepted by the buyer down there."

Therefore, Waterer's team is working in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers Association to make absolutely sure they are using the best possible techniques to meet the extremely stringent disease standards of Mexico.

"We are using an integrated approach, combining factors such as land selection, crop management, the use of appropriate pesticides and, in some cases, the development of new pesticides. We look at handling practices, grading practices and shipping procedures. In some cases, we are looking to test and support the registration of new pesticides. That is what makes it an integrated project.

"We are working with the seed growers, but also in conjunction with the grade standards folks at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Canada, and their counterparts in Mexico."

As Waterer puts it: "there is no sense in us doing something if our Mexican friends don't agree with us. 'The customer is always right' is all it boils down to."

The University of Saskatchewan scientist is also pleased with the level of collaboration his team enjoys from the Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers Association.

"We will be working very actively with the growers because they are really the experts as to what the customers want," he concludes.

One of the very significant advantages that Saskatchewan has in seed production is that the seed farms are very isolated, which hinders the spread of disease.

"Our relatively short, cool and dry growing season, and our long, rigorous winters tend to reduce disease pressures."