Scotland bucks the spud slump
BRITAIN’S potato harvest was the lowest since 2012, according to newly published figures, which also revealed that Scottish yields held firm against that slump.
Despite the ’challenging’ growing season, potatoes grown north of the border enjoyed a 3% increase in yield against last year to 49.2 tonnes per hectare, while the total British potato harvest was 13% down on the five year average of 5.6m tonnes at 4.9m tonnes, according to the annual Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board estimates.
That low overall production figure was the result of an estimated 4.4% drop in planted area across GB, and a 12% drop in average yield, as the crop was heavily impacted by a combination of late planting and the prolonged hot and dry weather that stalled tuber growth in June and July. Despite the better yield performance, the total production of potatoes in Scotland was still down, due to a decrease of 1.6Kha in planted area.
Sector strategy director at AHDB Potatoes, Dr Rob Clayton, commented: “Growers were battling a shortage of water this year, as you can see on the AHDB weather hub, the combined June and July period was one of the driest on record. Fields that were irrigated will have enjoyed a reasonable crop, while in others yields were very low.”
Only 53% of the land in Great Britain planted with potatoes this year had access to irrigation, according to an AHDB estimate.
“We won’t run out of potatoes” continued Dr Clayton “we didn’t in 2012, and we won’t in 2018. But what consumers will notice is a wider range of shapes and sizes in the bag they bring home to cook with. These shapes and sizes are a normal part of any harvest, they’ll still taste great and will still contribute to the nation’s vitamin C and fibre intake."
UK potato processors – crisp and French fry manufacturers – anticipate that the impacts of this year’s weather conditions will continue to be felt by the sector until at least summer 2019, when the early potato crop starts to be lifted.
As well as lower volumes of crop put into storage, the adverse growing conditions have impacted upon the quality of the potatoes and therefore the amount of useable crop. Potato size, defects and colour are the most notable impacts driven by levels of dry matter, secondary growth, cracking and bruising.
In addition, the combination of in-field stress caused by the weather conditions, and the fact that some crops were harvested later than normal (to allow more time for them to grow), is likely to mean an increase in the volume of materials encountering an early dormancy break. This has significant implications for sprouting, which will lead to increased weight loss from stored tubers, increased sugars and will particularly impact on long term storage.
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.