Potato supply chain needs a pragmatic approach

07 December 2023

Tim Rooke

Tim Rooke

NFU Potato Policy Group chair | NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board vice chair

A photo of Tim Rooke standing next to a red tractor.

Hear from NFU Potato Policy Group chair Tim Rooke in the aftermath of one of the most challenging lifting seasons he has faced. 

We’ve had one of the wettest and most challenging lifting seasons that I can remember, there’s no denying that it’s had an impact on the potato crop. We’ve seen a degree of crop abandonment, and what is coming out of the ground is proving difficult to store due to how wet the crop is.

There’s been plenty of media coverage in recent days on potential potato shortages ahead of Christmas. We always see these stories in the press in the lead up to Christmas, and once again there is confidence across the industry that we won’t be running short of potatoes for your Christmas dinner.

Looking into 2024

Looking further ahead into next year though, it is quite possible that we will see a tightening of supply. With a smaller crop than usual to start with, no carry over from the previous season, and difficulties storing potatoes, everything is pointing towards not having an excess this year. With a similar if not worse situation in Europe and Ireland, retailers may not have the option to fall back to imports that they have had previously.

We can’t control the weather, but there is one practical step that could significantly increase potato availability going forward. We need to be making use of every potato we can currently, and set consumer expectations that potatoes might not be the same shape or size they’re used to, but still the same taste and quality that they would expect.

Relaxing of specification needed now

When supply runs tight at the end of the season we often see a relaxation of specification. With the storage difficulties we are seeing it is essential that we see this relaxation now, rather than later on. The last thing growers need currently is to be having perfectly edible loads of potatoes rejected and sent to stock feed when in several months’ time retailers might be desperate for that same load.

On top of all of the increased pressures on cost inflation, and weather extremes earlier in the year, this challenging lifting season has been the last thing we needed. We need a degree of pragmatism across the entire supply chain, and everyone has their part to play to make the most of the crop we have.

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