Potato processors have warned they will continue to face the impact of tight supplies until at least summer 2019, when the early potato crop gets underway.
AHDB confirmed yesterday the UK had recorded its smallest potato harvest for six years, with growers pulling 700,000 fewer tonnes of potatoes from the ground in this autumn’s harvest.
The total tonnage fell to 4.9 million tonnes, compared to the five-year average of 5.6 million tonnes, according to the levy board, leading many processors to relax specifications.
The shortage has already seen prices rising on a range of crisp and chip SKUs as manufacturers struggled to find the raw materials to meet demand, The Grocer reported last month.
“Processors are limited by the physical characteristics of specific varieties required for crisp and French fry production,” said director general of the Potato Processors’ Association, Andrew Curtis.
“They will of course take a pragmatic and flexible approach on specifications wherever possible,” he added, while the effects of the shortage could continue until next year’s harvest gets underway.
Unseasonably cold and wet conditions throughout spring had pushed back planting, while grower decisions to delay harvesting the crop to allow them to grow had also affected the quality of this year’s crop, and was likely to cause early sprouting, added Curtis.
Early sprouting would lead to further volume losses, worsening the situation for buyers.
Conditions were compounded by an exceptionally dry and hot summer, said the AHDB. However, although Scotland’s growers had avoided the worst of the heatwave, planted areas were down leaving the harvest unable to subsidise demand.
“The combined June and July period was one of the driest on record,” said sector strategy director at AHDB Potatoes, Rob Clayton. “Fields that were irrigated will have enjoyed a reasonable crop, while in others yields were very low.
“We won’t run out of potatoes. But what consumers will notice is a wider range of shapes and sizes in the bag they bring home to cook with. Supermarkets won’t be able to only choose from the ‘middle’ section of sizes – hence more variety in the bag.”
“Potatoes need water to grow to the size we’re used to seeing, and to get the nice shiny skin consumers like,” agreed grower Tom Macfarlane.
Similar conditions across mainland Europe would limit the volumes available for import, said a statement issued by the Potato Processors’ Association. “The lack of a definitive position on potato and potato seed importation, post-EU exit on 29 March 2019 only adds to the challenges faced by the sector.”