Calls for action to save British potatoes

Potato growers are calling for political action as the future of homegrown potatoes comes under increasing pressure.

potatoes on wooden surface

The NFU is urging the government to take a series of practical steps to protect UK food production. 

Over the past three years potato growers have been hit with both drought and floods – with months of heavy rain this season.

The situation has culminated in a perfect storm for the great British potato, NFU says. 

Hard working growers have reported significant delays in the lifting of the 2023 crop and a further delay in planting the 2024 crop. 

At the same time, costs of key inputs like fertiliser and energy for storing potatoes have remained unsustainably high, with the compound cost of production in the sector increasing by 28% over the past two years.

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Difficult choice

NFU potato policy group vice chair Alastair Heath said the future of British potatoes is at risk.

“A number of growers have made the difficult choice to reduce production to minimise losses, and the relentless wet weather has put many more growers weeks behind schedule. 

“For some, profits have been all but wiped out. Business confidence is low and investment has become a far-away concept, which is putting pressure on British potato supplies in the short-term.”

Mr Heath said it’s unlikely we’ll see empty shelves this year, but we need urgent action to prevent the situation getting worse. 

“I believe we can and should be self-sufficient in potatoes,” he added.

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Cannot rely on imports

To help reduce the impact on shoppers, supply chains have been working with growers to be flexible with specifications to use as much of the British crop as possible. More imports are also being used so the public aren’t faced with empty shelves.  

However, for such a staple British crop, the NFU is warning that the UK cannot rely on imports as a backup plan, as doing so comes with its own risks. 

For example, potato supplies are also tight across the EU due to a widespread shortage of seed potatoes and similarly poor 2023 harvests and planting conditions.

READ MORE: Potatoes more exposed to effects of stress at all-important tuber initiation stage this season

READ MORE: Campaign launches to highlight importance of harvest after months of disastrous weather 

Mr Heath added: “War is raging in both Europe and the Middle East. Climate change is wreaking havoc on food production across the world. 

“We can no longer assume that we will always have access to food imports to plug gaps in our own market. 

“Given the volatile global environment we find ourselves operating in, this is not an effective contingency plan for our food security.”

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Practical steps

The next government must focus on building resilience, confidence and profitability on farms at home, he said.

“As political parties vie for votes, I urge them to recognise this example of why policies to boost homegrown food production must be a priority – because it is for voters.”

The NFU is urging the government to put the following in place to boost British crop production: 

  • A plan for a proactive management of our watercourses to reduce the risk of flooding and enable access to water in times of drought, with potatoes a thirsty crop.
  • With growers facing increasing resistance to pests and diseases, the next government should deliver a plan for the use and availability of plant protection products.  
  • Deliver an agricultural budget of £5.5 billion for England and Wales that underpins business resilience. This should include schemes to support potato growers to drive productivity and adapt to climate change, particularly through funding for new and existing reservoirs and cold storage facilities, alongside enabling planning policies.

The NFU would also like supermarkets to maintain the relaxation of potato specifications, to ensure quality potatoes aren’t going to waste. 

Read more arable news.

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