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Covid-19: British potato farmers face crisis as fish and chip shops close

Britain’s farmers are struggling to work out what to do with tens of thousands of tonnes of spare potatoes when their season ends this summer after the closure of fish and chip shops during the lockdown triggered a collapse in demand.

The UK government’s decision in March to close large parts of the economy to contain the spread of the coronavirus halted the hospitality industry, with restaurants, some takeaways, pubs, cafes, and bars all forced to shut their doors.

That caused a sharp drop in demand for several foods produced in Britain. That demand has not yet picked back up, with many out-of-home businesses not selling food, and others are operating at a significantly reduced capacity.

The closure of fish and chip shops – a traditional British business – has been acutely felt by UK potato farmers.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) estimates that in a best-case scenario, there will be 95,000 tonnes of spare chipping potatoes piled up in stores across Britain at the end of this farming season.

Growers face a major dilemma in figuring out how to deal with this huge surplus of chipping potatoes.

The stores must be empty in time for July, when growers begin work on next season’s produce. They are currently full of unwanted potatoes, with very few ways of getting rid of them available to growers.

Growers plan to donate part of the supply to food banks and charities. Some of the potatoes will become cattle feed where possible, and small amounts will be broken down using an industrial process called anaerobic digestion.

However, those measures combined will probably only have a limited impact, the ADHB’s Robert Clayton told Business Insider.

“It won’t get rid of the surplus, but it will help,” he said. “It’s a real head-scratcher.”

The financial impact is also set to be significant. The average cost of producing a single tonne is R3,352, Clayton said.

The National Farmers Union’s Alex Godfrey said, “the closure of fish and chip shops and fast food outlets at the end of March deprived hundreds of thousands of tonnes of potatoes already in store of their planned routes to market.”

Godfrey, a potato grower who chairs the NFU’s Potato Forum, told Business Insider: “Longer-term impacts on the industry are hard to judge, but good, solid businesses have been rocked. I hope they don’t tip over.”

Read the full report in Business Insider here

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