Potato plantings down to third-lowest area ever

Potato plantings are the latest victims of this summer’s extreme weather, the total planted area in Great Britain expected to be down by 3% on last year, according to AHDB.

The fall means just 119,000ha have been planted with potatoes in 2018, the third lowest area on record.

See also: Drought-hit farmers in Europe call for aid

The news will be all the more disconcerting for growers as the dry weather is likely to affect yields, the levy board says.

The Environment Agency and SEPA in Scotland have both introduced support measures to assist drought-hit growers and improve access to water needed for irrigation.

The industry is resilient enough to maintain the supply of the British-grown crop, according to Rob Clayton, AHDB’s sector strategy director for potatoes.

Dr Clayton said: “This has been a tough and stressful season for growers. We do not underestimate that. However, we welcome news that supply chains are working closer than ever before, and that continual improvements are leading to reduced food waste at all points from the grower to the consumer.”

He added that current weather conditions had been compounded by a start to the season that saw sub-zero temperatures brought by the “Beast from the East”, followed by a wet spring that delayed planting.

Yields down

“Since then, we’ve seen one of the driest combined June and July periods on record, so most growers are reporting that yields will be down,” he said.

Based on five-year average yields, this planted area would equate to a total potato harvest of 5.7m tonnes.

“Farmers have been working round the clock to minimise [the impact of the drought], with teams working overnight so that any water used does not evaporate in the hot sun.

“There is still some growing season to go, so it is impossible to accurately predict how far down they will be.”

Mitigation

Variables such as improved weather conditions and the availability of irrigation could go some way to mitigating earlier conditions, Dr Clayton said.

“Growers will be making contact with local EA agents to understand the additional flexibility on abstraction announced yesterday,” he said.

“Equally important will be the regular contact between growers and customers as they work to make the most from this year’s crop.”