The UK potato harvest is well behind normal. And with the Potato Council describing conditions in parts of the country as “atrocious” and “diabolical”, growers were keeping their fingers crossed earlier this week that the return to drier weather in many areas would persist to help them catch up.

By last weekend only about 20% of the crop had been cleared. By the same time last year the figure was over 30%.

Despite delayed planting yields so far are about average with less tuber cracking than last season, according to growers contacted by Farmers Weekly.

Foliar blight remains surprisingly light – various theories being put forward, including lighter canopies and cooler more windy conditions. But there is concern that the disease in tubers may be worse than usual.

Potato harvest

Lifting conditions remain highly variable.

In Essex former Barometer farmer Allan Stevenson was making better headway, with about a third of his 120ha (300 acres) harvested “It’s improved enormously since it started to dry up last Thursday. Conditions aren’t ideal but we’re soldiering on.”

In Gloucestershire, where wet land had earlier left Graham Nicholls’ struggling with his 100ha (240 acres), conditions have also improved.

“It started to dry out last Saturday, and we’re now up to 10-12 acres/day, and putting in two hours extra every day to catch up. The quality’s very good too.”

For others the picture is more akin to the PC’s description.

“We’re two to three weeks behind,” said Hereford contractor Russell Price who runs five harvesters lifting about 485ha (1200 acres).

“The ground’s still saturated and there are only a few pockets where we can lift.”

Some growers had already lost crops to flooding from the rivers Severn and Wye, he believed.

In Scotland David Lawson said crops around Duns were generally yielding well and of good quality. The problem was getting at them – only about 8% of the 650ha (1600 acres) that he is involved with were up earlier this week.

However with three self-propelled tracked harvesters working round the clock he remained hopeful. “It’s still very wet, but we can lift 2000t in 24 hours quite easily on light land.”