Potato supply chain ‘will cope with drought’

The Potato Council has allayed fears that the price of potatoes could increase if the crop is affected by drought.

Reports in national newspapers over the weekend claimed that the drought in the South could spark a nationwide shortage, which would lead to sharp price rises.

In its Drought Prospects report, published on Tuesday (13 March), the Environment Agency also stated that potatoes, as well as other vegetables, such as carrots, onions, cauliflower and broccoli could face price hikes if low rainfall persists in the South.

But Mike Storey, head of research and development at the Potato Council, said reports of a shortage of potatoes and price rises were premature.

The potato supply chain was prepared to respond to the drought and therefore he expected prices to stay roughly the same this year. The retail price of potatoes has been around 63p per kilo over the last few years.

“We expect potato supplies available to the shops to remain broadly the same this year,” said Mr Storey.

“The supply chain is likely to respond to the pressures in the industry. Look at Scotland and the North West – there is no drought up there.”

But Mr Storey admitted that some potato growers in drought-hit areas would be facing very challenging situations in managing their water resources.

“They may have changed their cropping plans compared to last year, but there’s a whole matrix in the industry responding to what’s happening nationally.”

With potato planting due to start next month, it remains to be seen whether the overall acreage will be affected this season.

But growers in drought-afflicted regions have been trying to mitigate water pressures by investing in reservoirs and more efficient spray irrigation systems, such as trickle irrigation, Mr Storey said.

Potatoes are a thirsty crop and they need water right through the growing season. However, in dry weather they become vulnerable to diseases such as common scab, which produces pustules on the surface of tubers and makes them visibly unacceptable to retailers.

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