Better returns needed for potato industry

Emergency summit held in Westminster by the Potato Council to discuss how to future-proof the industry's supply chain.

The potato industry faces an uncertain future unless growers get a better return on their investment.

This was one of the stark conclusions made during an emergency summit held for the industry by the Potato Council in Westminster.

The meeting, which was held earlier this spring, was attended by growers, farming unions, trade bodies, Government representatives, packers, processors and the food service industry to help future-proof the industry's supply chain.

The brainstorming session was organised because the past two growing seasons were so difficult that they brought tensions within the supply chain to a head.

The industry suffered an oversupply of potatoes in 2011 and the shortest season for 25 years in 2012.

It was revealed at the meeting that unless growers' return on investment improves, good growers will switch to other crops, production will fall and imports will rise.

Potato Council director Rob Clayton said: "For many of our growers, current contract terms and conditions simply do not provide the peace of mind needed to trigger reinvestment."

"The potato industry is on the brink of an opportunity as Great Britain's population increases, but without collective and concerted industry action, the future will feature growers shifting to lower-risk crops such as cereals and maize, greater reliance on imported potatoes and a steady and painful erosion of all the support we need from crop protection, machinery manufacture and Great Britain's science base."

Action plan Better comminication needed

Potato Council director Rob Clayton said better communication is needed throughout the supply chain and several areas of improvement have been identified.

"Currently, for example, there is no one in the industry who can assign a real cash value to the multitude of risks taken by growers. It's clearly an area we need to explore."

In the meantime, the Potato Council is advising growers to understand their costs of production thoroughly. "Without this first step negotiations are difficult and it is impossible to measure the impact of innovation and investment."

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