As the volatility around Potato prices continues, we take a look at UK Potato Farming and the latest harvest to understand what is driving the current challenges for Farmers and the price increases for Fryers.
Potatoes are an essential part of Britain’s best-loved takeaway, Fish and Chips.
In fact, it is one of the most popular vegetables in the world.
But why are potato prices so volatile at the moment?
Challenges to UK Farmers
Harvest time is important for those UK farmers who rely on growing potatoes to make a living.
These farmers are facing various challenges currently.
- Fertiliser: Prices in 2022 were up 150% on 2021, mainly driven by the prices of crude oil.
- Accessible Labour: The changing shape of seasonal labour resource post Brexit, has directly impacted the costs for farmers.
- Energy Prices: The increase in gas and electricity prices has impacted everyone, including farmers.
Despite this, the latest Government stats show the UK still grows enough potatoes to satisfy 70% of its own consumption.
The UK remains one of the largest potato growers in the world.
To make up the consumption shortfall, the UK relies on imported potatoes.
The EU is our main supplier, with Ireland supplying us with around 43% of our total imports followed by France (22%), Germany (12%) and Poland (10%).
There are other countries outside Europe who provide us with potatoes: The US provides around 4% of our imported produce while New Zealand supplies 3%. China supplies 2%.
Harvesting: how and for how long?
Harvesting begins in late August and continues well into the autumn months, usually being completed by the end of October.
Potatoes are harvested by hand or machine, depending on the size of the farm.
On smaller farms, people use tractors with potato diggers to harvest potatoes from rows of plants. Larger farms may use specialized machines that dig up entire fields at once instead of row by row.
An important factor in potato harvesting is the soil temperature.
The cooler the better with the ideal time to harvest being between 2am and 5am when the ground temperatures are at their lowest.
Stocks of potatoes.
UK stocks of potatoes are currently at an all-time low.
Potatoes are a major crop in the UK, but recent rising costs and the large surplus stocks seen in 2020 / 2021 due to the Covid 19 lockdown and farmers had to rethink how they use their land.
The last 12 months have seen some farmers dedicate less of their land to growing potatoes in favour of more profitable crops, with farms reducing their potato crops by 10% on average across the industry.
This, together with last year’s summer drought, meant that there was a “historically low” harvest in 2022, which directly impacted the stocks carried through into 2023.
Will growing potatoes still be an important crop of the future?
According to the Life Science Company, Bayer, yes, most definitely. The potato is the UK’s most popular vegetable by a considerable margin and while there may be some challenges to overcome, it is eaten for enjoyment more than any other vegetable.
The UK is geared very well for potato production with a professional network of growers, seed producers and processors.
So there is every reason to believe that the potato will remain a regular feature of the farming landscape.
There are other reasons to be optimistic. Our processors are amongst the most efficient and innovative of any in the developed world. This should be seen as a commitment to the sector and a sign of confidence in the future.
Good news for UK Fryers.
Such long term commitments to Potato farming in the UK is great news for the UK market.
UK farmers’ confidence in growing potato crops will hopefully drive a more stable supplier environment, resulting in less volatile pricing in future years and normalising the price of a 20kg bag of potatoes.
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