2018 potato harvest could be down as much as 16% on last year

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) estimates that the total area in Great Britain planted with potatoes is 119,000ha; down 3% on the previous year.

This would represent the third-lowest planted area on record. The news comes in a challenging season for potato growers, with an agricultural drought likely to affect yields.

A yield reduction of 10% on the five-year average added to the predicted 3% fall in planted area would see a total crop of 5.1 million tonnes – down 16% on last year.

However, if the agricultural drought persists, then yields could be lower still.

The ultimate size of the potato crop, and how the market firms in response, will not be known until harvest. At five-year average yields, this would equate to a total potato harvest of 5.7 million tonnes.

‘A vital crop’

However, AHDB’s sector strategy director for potatoes, Dr. Rob Clayton said: “Potatoes are a vital crop for families, providing 14% of the vitamin C consumed in Britain as a staple that some of our favourite meals are based on.

“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.”

The Environment Agency (EA) on Tuesday, announced further support for drought-hit farmers, ahead of the NFU’s drought summit held the same day.

Meanwhile, In Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has given a commitment to help growers continue to access the water they need for irrigation.

Dr. Clayton said: “The season started with sub-zero temperatures brought by ‘the beast from the east’, followed by a wet spring that delayed planting.

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.

“Farmers have been working round the clock to minimise this, 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.

“Variables such as the weather and the availability of irrigation could go some way to mitigating earlier conditions.

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

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