UK Growers and Processors Are Concerned about Lower Potato Volumes This Year
The UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) estimates that the total area in Great Britain planted with potatoes is 119,000 hectares(ha), a fall of 3% on the previous year.
UK Potato Processors’ Association (PPA) also mentioned the UK potato processing sector faces significant challenges this year, resulting from the current weather conditions and especially as a result of the 10 consecutive days in July where recorded temperatures rose above 30⁰C.
AHDB say the planted area would represent the third-lowest planted area on record. The news comes in a challenging season for potato growers, with an agricultural drought likely to affect yields.
AHDB’s Sector Strategy Director for Potatoes, Dr. Rob Clayton, believes that a resilient industry will maintain the supply of our British-grown crop. He says: “This has been a tough and stressful season for growers, we do not underestimate that. However, we welcome news that supply chains are working closer than ever before, and that continual improvements are leading to reduced food waste at all points from the grower to the consumer.”
The Environment Agency (EA) announced further support for drought-hit farmers, ahead of the NFU’s drought summit held on the same day. While in Scotland SEPA has given a commitment to help growers continue to access the water they need for irrigation.
The ultimate size of the potato crop, and how the market firms in response, will not be known until harvest. At five year average yields, this would equate to a total potato harvest of 5.7 million tons(Mt).
Dr. Clayton says: “The season started with sub-zero temperatures brought by ‘the beast from the East’, followed by a wet spring that delayed planting. Since then, we’ve seen one of the driest combined June and July periods on record, so most growers are reporting that yields will be down. Farmers have been working round the clock to minimize this, with teams working overnight so that any water used does not evaporate in the hot sun. There is still some growing season to go, so it is impossible to accurately predict how far down they will be. Variables such as the weather and the availability of irrigation could go some way to mitigating earlier conditions. Growers will be making contact with local EA agents to understand the additional flexibility on abstraction announced yesterday. Equally important will be the regular contact between growers and customers as they work to make the most from this year’s crop.”
On the other hand, PPA appreciates it is early to give a definitive view of the impact on the yield and size of this year’s crop, it is clear that volumes will be significantly lower than average, and it is extremely likely that there will be serious issues in terms of availability of potatoes that are suitable for processing.
“We believe that there will be an impact on potato size, dry matter and potentially an increase in defects such as cracking and bruising. It is also likely that there will be less crop going into storage, and not all stored crops will be of optimum quality. This will mean that impacts for UK potato processors will last well into the first half of 2019,” PPA says.
Similar weather conditions have been observed across mainland Europe, and it will limit surplus materials available for import. The lack of a definitive position on potato and potato seed importation, post-EU exit on March, 29, 2019 only adds to the challenges that we face.
“UK potato processors will of course take a pragmatic and flexible approach wherever possible, but we are limited to a certain extent by legislation and physical characteristics of specific varieties used for crisps and French fry production,” PPA adds.