The potato sector in the UK experienced a better period this year, but the impact of the potato shortage on growers took time to manifest due to the presence of last year’s harvest in the market and prices only began to rise around mid-May. Volumes were low, and by the end of the season, it became challenging to find good-quality potatoes. The improved prices from the end of the previous season could carry over through the winter, as there will be less planting in both 2022 and 2023.
The new potato season began a few weeks ago in England, and the initial harvest looks promising.
“The early potatoes were affected by the earlier year’s drought, but we have rain now, and the later potatoes will be good. Yields are currently quite variable; we’ve only been harvesting for a few weeks, and some areas are doing well, while others are not,” a grower mentioned.
The potatoes are being harvested in East Anglia, where soil types are versatile and the harvest is not hampered by rain.
In Scotland, the growth conditions for both consumption and seed potatoes are currently positive. After a very dry May and June, there was substantial rainfall in July. The main harvest begins in September in Scotland. “The volumes will be low this year, regardless of yields, because many growers have stopped growing potatoes after several bad years. The trade in fresh produce, in general, has been dominated by large retailers for years and more recently by Brexit, followed by high energy costs and a labor shortage. Unfortunately, potato growers tend not to come back due to high capital investments. For those who have survived, it has been a very challenging few years,” said a Scottish grower.
While prices were better this year, inflation has eroded the profits that growers could have had.
Seed potato growers have not fared better; they lost a significant portion of their export market when the European market closed for them after Brexit. To make matters worse, European seed potato growers found a loophole that allowed them to send seed potatoes to the UK. British growers had already begun growing varieties to fill the gap they expected to arise if there were no more European seed potatoes on the market.
However, there is also positive news: British growers can send seed to Northern Ireland, where it can be grown and then sent to Europe. But this will be on a small scale, as there is not enough land or growers in Northern Ireland to do this on a large scale. Since the closure of the European market for seed potatoes, no new markets have opened for Scottish seed potatoes; growers have only focused on the existing markets. The Scottish government has not released the figures yet, but it is expected that seed potato cultivation will dip below 10,000 hectares for the first time in many, many years.