Potato growers' returns set to better last year's poor showing

Returns to potato growers are likely to fair better this year, according to Potato Council chairman and grower Allan Stevenson.

He told Grower that, overall, returns to growers will be much better than a year ago - when a high-yielding crop led to lower prices because growers had a surplus of potatoes.

"The crop is still largely in the ground so you always have to be careful around predictions - all around the UK there's always someone who gets weather problems. My prediction is that there's good evidence this will be a better season for growers," he said.

"The majority of major growers have everything on contract so their crop is pre-sold at predetermined prices. But we all have extra material that needs to find a home so it helps us in the secondary markets. For the potato industry as a whole, it's a good thing if trade is given a bit of a better run this year."

Stevenson spoke to Grower after addressing some 650 growers and processors at Potatoes in Practice (PiP) in Invergowrie, Dundee, on 12 August. He noted that general sales of potatoes had held up well during the recession, except for organic and loose potatoes.

He later said: "Organic sales during the course of the past year have been down by more than 20 per cent. But they are recovering - the latest Potato Council retail report dated 13 June said they are 13 per cent down, so over time the market has started to return."

Stevenson also told delegates at PiP that while there was a "long-term structural decline" in the amount of potatoes being eaten, the Potato Council was working hard to sustain demand for British potatoes both at home and abroad. He said the council was "reaching out to young consumers in particular and encouraging them to adopt more potato meals".

He went on to stress that the increasingly global nature of the potato market required the Potato Council to play a positive role in supporting the industry in its bid to increase exports of seed potatoes.

Next month, Stevenson is travelling to China - the world's largest potato producer - for the second time this year as part of the ongoing work by the Potato Council, the Scottish Government and Defra to persuade the country to open its market.

The PiP event also focused on subjects today's growers have to tackle. Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture's Gerry Saddler spoke about the importance of balancing cost with risk where potential diseases were concerned.

He said the best option was to buy seed potatoes from growers in the Safe Haven scheme, set up to ensure freedom from the notifiable disease ring rot.

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