A new industry body could help to champion potato production

John Sarup in a potato field

I will start with a brief roundup of where crops are at in the areas I work in – Scottish Borders to The Humber in the East, Cumbria to Shropshire in the West.

Cool temperatures, especially at night, and relatively low sunshine hours have meant that canopies have been developing slowly. 

See also: How new blight strains might influence control strategies

However, over the last week or so, the longer daylight hours, as we approach midsummer, have helped, and I expect most ware crops to have reached full ground cover by the longest day.

The cooler temperatures don’t seem to be worrying aphids, with high numbers of Myzus persicae (peach-potato aphid) being caught in yellow water traps and seen in ware crops. 

In my opinion, the network of yellow water traps is vital in managing virus risk in seed potatoes. More on this later.

Weather

Welcome, and unwelcome rain came right at the end of May, with reports of anything from 5mm to 50mm, even within a few miles of each other. 

One brief downpour near Driffield produced 20mm in about 10 minutes, resulting in flooded fields.

Harvest of new season Maris Bard (or “Cheshires”) started mid-May, with small amounts of door trade and at local garden centres. 

With the crop growing quickly, they are now on the markets in reasonable quantities, with prices around £1/kg and yields of about 20t/ha+. That will do very nicely, thank you!

Prices

The movement of old crop packing potatoes is proving to be particularly challenging. 

There seem to be some export opportunities, but at sub-£100/t they are not that exciting, other than for emptying the store and, therefore, saving a little on electric.

There seems to be little in the way of support coming from the major supermarkets, with rice and pasta prices increasing but potato prices falling. Where is the support for British farming?

I can see a few packing growers cutting back next year or even taking a year out, particularly on “whites”, with little or no reward for the risk. 

Increase to contracts

Interestingly, this all comes at a time when McCain have announced an increase to this year’s contract price of £4.92/t on contract tonnage, payable immediately upon submission of invoice. 

This aims to cover increases in the cost of production up until harvest, and will be reviewed and amended for those who are storing.

I hear, but not had confirmed, that the crisp manufacturers are considering something similar — all good news for the processing sector.

At the end of May, I joined a Zoom meeting organised by GB Potatoes, a group of nine individuals who have been talking for the last year about how we safeguard the future of the potato industry. 

New industry body

In my opinion, there is a need for a body to represent and champion the industry we love.

Unlike AHDB Potatoes, which seemed to get tied up with bureaucracy, I believe that GB Potatoes will be able to lobby and fight for the things that really matter.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, the network of yellow water traps monitoring aphid pressure and virus risk is crucial, 2018 wasn’t that long ago, and we can all remember the effect of the virus on seed potatoes. 

Thank goodness FERA has taken on the mantle of running the monitoring scheme. However, the information cannot be put on to a map for all to see and access. I believe that GB Potatoes would be able to facilitate this.

Pesticides and funding

Over the next three years, the registration of several well-known and important pesticides will be up for renewal. 

Nemathorin (fosthiazate) is one that springs to mind. The industry, through GB Potatoes, would be in a much better position – alongside the manufacturer – to support and secure its re-registration.

Finally, the Scottish Government has committed to funding Fight against Blight for this year and this year only. 

This involves crucial work looking at active ingredient resistance and the monitoring of blight strains through the established network of Blight Scouts.

This work must continue in the future with GB Potatoes being able to support its work. If you haven’t already done so, please pledge your support by emailing: info@gb-potatoes.co.uk

For more information go to:

www.gb-potatoes.co.uk

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