Figures published this week by AHDB Potatoes confirm that 2018 was one of the worst Great Britain potato harvests in recent years, with volumes significantly lower than average and processors noting a direct impact on the quality of available raw materials.
Although the 2018 harvest is now complete, UK potato processors (crisp and French fry manufacturers) anticipate that the impacts of this year’s weather conditions will continue to be felt by the sector until at least summer 2019, when the early potato crop starts to be lifted.
At the start of the year cold and wet weather conditions, due to the ‘The Beast from the East’, contributed to late planting of crops in many areas. Problems were then compounded by unseasonably high spring and summer temperatures (including 10 consecutive days in July where recorded temperatures rose above 300C) and a complete lack of rainfall in some areas.
Since mid-August weather conditions have improved, with growers making the best of a difficult season. However, these latest figures from AHDB confirm that there will be serious issues in terms of availability and quality of potatoes for processing through the first half of 2019.
As well as lower volumes of crop put into storage, the adverse growing conditions has impacted upon the quality of the potatoes and therefore the amount of useable crop. Potato size, defects and colour are the most notable impacts driven by levels of dry matter, secondary growth, cracking and bruising.
In addition, the combination of in field stress caused by the weather conditions, and the fact that some crops were harvested later than normal (to allow more time for them to grow), is likely to mean an increase in the volume of materials encountering an early dormancy break. This has significant implications for sprouting, which will lead to increased weight loss from stored tubers, increased sugars and will particularly impact on long term storage.
Similar adverse weather conditions were observed across many parts of mainland Europe, and this will limit surplus materials available for import. The lack of a definitive position on potato and potato seed importation, post-EU exit on 29 March 2019 only adds to the challenges faced by the sector.
UK potato processors are working with growers on scheduling to ensure maximum use of the usable crop and the whole of the supply chain is working together to ensure that they can continue to provide high quality finished products.
Processors are limited, to an extent, by the physical characteristics of specific varieties required for crisp and French fry production, but will take a pragmatic and flexible approach on specifications wherever possible.