UK grower estimates show small drop in potato planted area

The UK planted area for potatoes has held up despite a turbulent season for growers. The figures suggest a minimal impact from the coronavirus crisis on planting decisions, as many growers had already made plans by the time the pandemic hit.

Provisional estimates from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) show the planted area in Great Britain at 119,000ha.

If correct, it shows only a 1% drop on last year, taking into account revisions to the 2019 planted area data since September.

Although it is early days, the 2020-2021 UK potato crop could be 5.4 million tonnes if the average yield is 45t/ha.

Lower yields are anticipated on the early crops due to frosts in mid-May but yields on maincrop potatoes are looking relatively robust.

Estimates of 45t/ha would mean a rise in production compared to last year, despite a drop in the planted area.

AHDB analyst Alice Bailey said: “Despite the wet weather hampering early planting, conditions changed dramatically when it came to the maincrop. For some growers, the conditions bordered on too dry.

When comparing these projected production figures with last year, it’s important to remember that some of the 2019 crop couldn’t be harvested.

“Our current estimate of 5.4 million tonnes assumes that the entire planted area for this season can be lifted out the ground.”

Climatic factors

Although there was some initial concern about cold soil temperatures earlier this year, temperatures rose throughout April.

Despite this, a bought of frost in mid-May could still impact the yield of some crops.

While rain returned during June, the impact varied over the country but generally provided a boost to crops.

The warm weather throughout spring brought other challenges for growers, with aphids causing problems this season.

The return of wet weather brought the threat of late blight. Blightwatch issued a number of warnings around the UK prompting concern.

The service is run jointly by AHDB and the Met Office, and uses criteria developed by the James Hutton Institute to warn growers of potential outbreaks by email.

Full updates of 2019 potato production in Great Britain will be published by July 10. The figures will be broken down by region and sector. They will also include updates to stock data.

Update to 2019-2020 figures

Due to late submissions of planting data last season, the figure for the 2019-2020 planted area has been revised up by 1%. This means that the previously reported figure of 118,953ha is now 120,254ha with 95%.

Confidence interval of +/-0.3% (119,937ha to 120,571ha). The previous figures were based on 90% of levy returns. The revised figure is based on 98% of returns.

2020-2021 estimates

The initial estimate of 119,000ha is provisional, based on a sample covering 60% of producers by area. As with all estimates based on a sample, results should be treated with caution.

While AHDB makes every effort to make the sample representative, the actual planted area may be affected by those not included in this survey.

Statistical 95% confidence limits for the estimate are +/-1.9%, meaning the final figure for 2020 could lie anywhere between 116,698ha to 121,302ha.