Sunday, September 23, 2018

Smaller potato crop due to lower plantings and extreme weather

September 3, 2018 by  
Filed under Crops

Potato plantings are down 3% on last year due to extreme weather – the third-lowest planted area on record, says the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

The total area in Great Britain planted with potatoes is 119,000ha, so a smaller harvest is certain. The news comes in a challenging season for growers, with smaller potatoes coming out of the ground as the summer drought takes its toll on tuber size.

Resilient industry

AHDB sector strategy director Rob Clayton said a resilient industry would maintain British potato supplies. He said: “Potatoes are a vital crop for families, providing 14% of the vitamin C consumed in Britain as a staple that some of our favourite meals are based on.

“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 announced further support for drought-hit farmers last month, ahead of an NFU drought summit. Meanwhile, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency said it was committed to helping growers access the water needed for irrigation.

Yield and prices

The ultimate size of the potato crop, and how the market firms in response, will not be known until later in harvest. However, at five year average yields, this would equate to a total potato harvest of 5.7 million tonnes (Mt).

Dr Clayton said: “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 yields will be down.

“Farmers have been working round the clock to minimise 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.

Other factors

“Variables such as the weather and the availability of irrigation could go some way to mitigating earlier conditions. Equally important will be the regular contact between growers and customers as they work to make the most from this year’s crop.”​

If the agricultural drought persists, then yields could be lower still. A yield reduction of 10% due to lack of rain – added to the predicted % fall in planted area would see a total crop of 5.1Mt, down 16%.

Dr Clayton said: “The good news for consumers is, thanks to the tireless efforts of growers, they will be able to enjoy potatoes and potato products over the coming year.

“What we are likely to see are slightly smaller potatoes, but levels of vitamins and fibre will be unaffected and potatoes will remain a great value food.”

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