The latest issue of AHDB
Intelligence Reportshows that the number of professional potato
growers in the UK is continuing to fall.
The report shows that after
two years of increasing area, the large harvest in excess of 6 million tonnes
and resulting low prices in 2017/18 led to a fall in planted area to 117,300
‘The fall in planted area
has been paired with a long-term rationalisation in the number of registered
growers,’ says AHDB. ‘This season, the number of registered growers fell to
1,751 – a reduction of 715 growers since 2000. Meanwhile, the average area per
grower has been steadily rising during this period.
‘Consolidation within the
industry has led to a minority of growers planting an increasing proportion of
the GB potato crop. In 2018, 17% of registered growers planted 100 ha or more
of potatoes. This compares with just 5 per cent of growers in 2003. Meanwhile,
the number of smaller scale growers has declined, with only 830 registered
growers planting between 3 and 29 ha in 2018, compared with 2,249 in 2003.’
According to AHDB,
economies of scale are the main factor behind fewer smaller growers and
continued consolidation at the larger end of the industry.
M&S potato and fresh
produce supplier Manor Fresh, which is based near Holbeach in Lincolnshire, has
reported a turnover of £57 million for the year ending 28 April 2018, almost £3
million less than the previous year. The lower figures were put down to
increased potato volumes subduing the market.
However, profits only
declined from £1.6 to £1.5 million over the same period. The company estimated
the potato harvest in 2017 at 6.04 million tonnes, compared with 5.2 million in
2016 and 5.4 million in 2015.
‘Although an increasingly
significant proportion of the UK fresh potato and processed potato supply
volumes are now forward contracted by buyers on a fixed value and volume basis,
the higher gross tonnage produced from the 2017 UK crop harvest did put
downward pressure on non-contracted product prices in some sectors of the UK
potato market,’ the Manor Fresh board said in a statement. ‘Despite higher
overall total gross potato yields produced during the 2017 UK potato harvest,
the inherent quality and availability of certain top tier UK produced potato
varieties, particularly Maris Piper, remained a significant sourcing challenge
for higher quality retail outlets.’
The European Union (EU) has
renewed the approval of the plant growth regulator maleic hydrazide (MH), but
industry experts warn that growers will have to take into account new
regulatory requirements which will apply to all products containing MH.
According to new EU
regulations, MH products are now required to contain lower levels of hydrazine
to meet tightening restrictions on metabolites. Most significantly, under EU
regulation (2017/1506) crops treated using MH products can no longer be fed to
livestock. In the UK, the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) has confirmed
that all crop protection products containing MH must now carry on the label the
phrase ‘Do not feed to livestock’.
These restrictions apply to
all MH products from the authorisation holders from 1 November 2018. However,
MH products placed on the market before 1 November 2018 which do not comply
with the new requirement (i.e. existing labelled stock) have been allowed a
grace period of six months for sale, and a further 12 months for use.
CRD has also requested that
authorization holders and industry partners develop and implement a stewardship
program to ensure compliance with the restriction and the continued safe use of
MH so that product registrations can be maintained.
The maincrop potato harvest is now well underway, although a mixture of very dry conditions and torrential rains are adding to what was already a ‘patchy’ and difficult situation for the crop.
One grower, Ben Sykes from North Yorkshire told Farmers Guardian that by 8 October they had harvested around 20 per cent of their 220 ha crop, compared with 40-50 per cent in an average year.
“They were planted a lot later because of a wet spring and it has been a stressful growing season with the heat. We’ve had to wait a long time for them to mature and now we are harvesting dangerously late,” he said.
Earlier this year AHDB Potatoes’ planting survey recorded a 3 per cent drop in area, making it the third lowest planting figure on record, while overall the North-western European Potato Growers (NEPG) association estimates crop yields in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and the UK will be 8 per cent below the five-year average at around 30-40 t/ha depending on irrigation and water availability.
Press reports suggest that major potato supplier Produce Investments, which owns Greenvale AP, Swancote Foods and The Jersey Royal Company, has lost one of its key contracts.
According to Food Manufacture, the unnamed customer plans to implement a ‘single supplier strategy’ and so Produce Investments will not be offered a new contract when its existing one expires next August, with product volume expected to be gradually phased over three years from that date.
A spokesman for Produce Investments said, “While naturally disappointed with the outcome of this decision, this is part of the ordinary course of business in the sector in which the company operates. The board will continue to work hard to drive new business and mitigate over time any negative impact this decision may have on the company’s operations.”
The news came just days before new Greenvale managing director Andy Clarkson, who has been promoted from customer operations director, was due to address the FPJ Live conference in Coventry. On his appointment, Mr Clarkson commented, “I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue the development of the Greenvale business. We have a great team internally and externally and I am very much looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”
Last month Produce Investments accepted a £52.95 million takeover from Jersey-based investment company Bidco, which will delist the group from the stock market.
After months of hot dry weather, Irish potato growers are now concerned that a break in the weather could create ideal conditions for late blight to infect stressed crops.
According to a report, unsettled weather is expected for a least a week across Ireland with a mixture of sunny spells, heavy rain, rising temperatures and humid conditions expected. The forecast caused national meteorological service Met Eireann to reiterate a Status Yellow warning that current conditions are conducive to the spread of potato blight – which it expects is “likely to develop” in parts of west Ulster from 14 August.
The warning was first issues last Friday (10 August) and the forecaster also warned that, ‘Opportunities for both drying and spraying will be limited over the coming days’ which could create a perfect storm of conditions which favour disease development but prevent growers controlling its spread.
Photo Caption: Irish potato growers expect weather conditions to be ideal for the spread of potato late blight this week
AHDB Potatoes says that its ‘Bud the Spud’ campaign, and its take-up on social media has led to an increase in the sale of fresh potatoes following years of decline.
Bud was introduced to consumers three years ago as part of an EU co-financed joint campaign with Bord Bia (the Irish food board), with the aim of “emotionally re-engaging consumers with potatoes”, through providing quick-and-easy meal inspiration to fit in with our ever-busier lifestyles, while reminding them of the healthy and nutritious virtues of potatoes.
Another success was AHDB’s ‘More than a Bit on the Side’ where the target audience has continued to increase following each wave of campaign activity. AHDB says that analysis shows that consumer perceptions of potatoes being versatile and healthy were all higher than when the campaign started. Furthermore, findings from all bursts of post-campaign research have shown around 9 in 10 consumers are now considering cooking potatoes either on weekdays or weekends.
AHDB Potatoes added, ‘While retail performance cannot be directly attributed to marketing activity, at the end of the second year of the campaign Kantar WorldPanel figures showed that fresh potato volumes sold are higher than the level predicted, in this way the campaign is viewed as exceeding its target for the first two full years of activity.’
The NEPG (North-Western European Potato Growers) organisation estimates an increase of 0.4 per cent in the planted area of its member countries compared to 2017.
In a release NEPG said that potato stocks remain high, but late planting due to adverse weather and the subsequent later arrival of early 2018 crops were expected to extend the season for last year’s crop. The group also expects to see a convergence of the market in terms of price and quality, with best samples increasing in value.
By the first week of May, continental planting had almost been completed, while around half of the UK area still had to be put into the ground. France, Belgium and Germany have planted more area, while in the Netherlands the area reduced by 2.5 per cent. Great Britain has no estimation available at the moment so the 5 years average has been used to calculate the area planted. In total 0.4 per cent more than last year, and 6.7 per cent more compared to the five-year average, has been planted. NEPG warned that this increase was not in line with the growing demand from the processing industry, and that a 4 per cent reduction in yields from the five-year average is also expected.
AHDB Potatoes pointed out that the NEPG estimates do not include data related to seed potatoes or potatoes for starch production.
Photo Caption: NEPG are forecasting a 0.4 per cent increase in potato planting this year
AHDB’s Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research has announced the launch of a new potato storage service called VarietyCheck for the forthcoming season.
AHDB point out that, “With new regulations on acrylamide and fewer sprout suppressants it is more important than ever to get the right storage conditions for your variety of choice.” The new service will be tailored to crop variety and dormancy, as well as end use.
For example, for processing crops using a variety with long dormancy and the ability to store at lower temperature without sweetening is beneficial. For fresh market packing varieties, maintaining appearance and avoiding blackheart are high priorities.
AHDB says that VarietyCheck will use established methods to objectively assess grower’s new varieties or potato stocks under defined and accurately controlled storage conditions with processing or fresh pack storage options. The service will cost £1,250 (excluding VAT) per variety/stock for the first stock, with discounts available for multiple submissions.
A US scientist is investigating the potential of using aerial drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to spot symptoms of potato diseases live PVY.
Donna Delparte, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Idaho State University (ISU) discussed her research at the Idaho Potato Conference in January.
“They are very much the future, especially when we’re working on trying to expand the technology and look at new and novel ways to use UAV, such as crop-invasive species,” she said.
Using a special camera it’s possible to fly a drone over a field and determine the precise locations of plants infected with PVY with a reasonable level of certainty. Delparte’s team created a profile of what an infected plant looks like with a hyperspectral camera, and then took that profile to the field to identify infected plants. The results were ‘ground-truthed’ and after tuning the algorithm reached an 89.8 percent success rate.
The drone imagery combined with a Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS system, provided the location of the PVY infected potato plants. “Imagine we send a farmer a dot on a map or a GPS that says, ‘this is where you should be able to find PVY infected plants,’ and be able to do some sort of mitigation,” Delparte explained.
Despite the promise, the costs of the camera and the computing power required to crunch the large amount of data generated are both issues which need to be overcome.