NFU potato forum chairman Tim Papworth told FoodManufacture.co.uk that potato growers were now “a rare breed” that needed to be treated pragmatically.
However, as the impact of low yields started to bite, he said he was heartened that he hadn’t yet heard of “any horror stories from either side”.
With around 70% of all potatoes in England and Wales being grown on fixed price contracts, growers would normally be expected to make up any shortfall by buying potatoes on the open market.
But with yields significantly reduced due to the cool and wet summer weather in 2012, more growers will be falling short of contract than ever before and are faced with an open market price that has reached unprecedented levels for this time of the year.
Papworth said some manufacturers and processors had already shown sensitivity to the plight of growers and added it was vital that all parties talked sooner rather than later to deal with the problems that could arise.
“I have already heard of some buyers taking a pragmatic approach because they recognise that the shortages have largely been out of the growers’ control,” he said.
“I believe this sets a good example of how relationships across the supply chain should work and I would encourage growers to talk to their customers and reach a sensible agreement.”
The cool and wet weather throughout the summer and autumn has limited growth and increased disease pressure, and the increased level of crop management has raised the costs of production while, at the same time, yields have fallen.
Last week Richard Harris, director general of the Potato Processors’ Association, told FoodManufacture.co.uk many manufacturers were now being forced to secure supplies from countries such as Poland and Holland.
Papworth added: “I can’t remember a year quite like this. Our members have been working exceptionally hard to try and meet their customers’ requirements and I believe this dedication and commitment should be acknowledged. It is vitally important to have positive working relationships across the supply chain, particularly during exceptional seasons like this one.
“I hope all parties can come to a common sense solution so that we can look to the season ahead and continue to deliver a high-quality British crop year in year out.
“It is vital that all parties are talking to each other, be they the manufacturers, growers, chippers or growers. We need a level-headed agreement because potato growers are a rare breed and we need to be careful they don’t become extinct.”