Potato firms’ ‘double whammy’ weather woes

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Heavy rain delayed planting and is now frustrating harvesting plans
Heavy rain delayed planting and is now frustrating harvesting plans

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Manufacturers of potato products are being hit by a “double whammy” because of the most difficult crop in living memory.

More than 50% of the UK crop goes to manufacturers, but the quality and quantity of this year’s crop has been affected by the weather.

Richard Harris, director general of the Potato Processors’ Association, said many manufacturers were now being forced to secure supplies from countries such as Poland and Holland.

“The prices for the actual potatoes are not much higher, but the cost of transport can be £50 or £60t,”​ he said.

“In addition to this, many of the major companies have chosen to back Britain and buy British. It is therefore a double whammy when the policies we have pursued for the good of the country and the good of the industry can’t be followed through because of the vagaries of the British weather.”

Potato products

In a normal year, “virtually all”​ manufacturers of potato products get their potatoes from the UK, Harris said. “I have been involved in this industry for 50 years and it is the most difficult crop any of us can remember.”

The Potato Council – which represents growers ­– said this year’s crop is likely to feature smaller potatoes with a poorer skin finish.

“Right now, the potato industry, its growers, packers and processors, are facing a severe challenge to manage the impact of the weather,”​ said Maria Ball, corporate affairs manager at the Potato Council.

“This year they are facing exceptional conditions and are working hard to maintain a supply of good quality and good value potatoes. We are expecting it to be a later harvest due to heavy rain delaying planting and a lack of sunshine slowing development.”

Lower yields

“In one area of the field, the potato, while not top-notch, was perfectly fine, while in another area of the same field, they were a disaster,”​ he said.

Bill Bartlett, McCain Foods corporate affairs director, conceded the crop was putting pressure on supplies but said the company was still overwhelmingly using British potatoes.

“Like everyone in the potato industry, McCain has seen severe pressure on supply in the early months of the season; we will continue to work closely with our grower base and our other supply chain partners, to manage this very challenging season to best effect,”​ he said.

“McCain sources the vast majority of its crop, including all our chips, from dedicated UK growers and the amount imported from Europe is minimal in comparison.”

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