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UK potato farmers fear another washout for this year’s crop

The humble spud, staple of the British dinner table, has weathered storm, flood and lockdown, but farmers are on tenterhooks ahead of the crucial growing season for the key crop as the UK heatwave is followed by thunderstorms and deluges. Fiona Harvey, Environment correspondent for The Guardian, reports in this news story.

Farmers are desperate to avoid a repeat of last year, when good growing weather over the summer was followed by heavy rains in some areas from late September that left the ground too sodden to harvest for months, spelling disaster for many potato growers.

“It’s too early to say what this year’s harvest will be like, but the next few weeks will be crucial,” said Alex Godfrey, the chair of the potato forum at the National Farmers’ Union, who grows potatoes in north Lincolnshire. “The crops in the ground look good, and have done so far this year, but whether that yields tubers we don’t know yet. We only completed last year’s harvest on 23 March this year. That’s very unusual.”

Mark Alton, who has a farm in North Yorkshire, said: “Last year we all had big smiles at this stage, when things were looking bright. I had superb potatoes in the ground and started to lift them on 24 September. On 25 September, the heavens opened and 150mm of rain fell in the following six or seven weeks.”

Extreme weather, from record-breaking heat and drought to devastating floods, has caused severe hardship for Britain’s potato farmers. “In the last two years, we’ve seen the worst crops of potatoes for the last 40 years,” said Howard Snape, the regional president of McCain Foods.

This year potato farmers were hammered by the coronavirus lockdown. About half of the UK’s potato crop goes to catering, according to Snape. That market disappeared almost overnight when the lockdown was enforced, leaving farmers with nowhere to sell their produce.

Prices for potatoes at the farm gate fell by half for many farmers during lockdown, from about £300 to £320 a tonne to about £150 to £160 a tonne. Many farmers were unprepared for the financial consequences.

Source: The Guardian. Read the full story here
Photo: Nigel Adams on his farm near Enville, Staffordshire. ‘We’re hoping for it to be a bit cooler,’ he says. Photograph: James Robinson

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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