2020 GB potato production up 4% year-on-year to 5.4Mt

Friday, 11 December 2020

Despite the 2020 planted area to potatoes decreasing 2.3% year-on-year, potato production for 2020 is estimated to rise 4.1% (210Kt) to 5.37Mt*. This is in line with the 5-year average (2015-2019), but sits 676Kt below the bumper year of 2017. Although a year-on-year rise, this year’s production is only ranked the 7th largest since 2010 and is by no means a bumper crop.

The rise in production, despite a drop in planted area, is driven by two main factors. Firstly, the GB yield estimate from the harvested area is up 0.7t/ha, to 46.3t/ha. Alongside this, the estimated area left unlifted is lower this year. While 2020 had its own challenges throughout the lifting campaign, it was somewhat easier for most growers compared with 2019.

There are sector and regional differences though. Production increases have not been seen across the board, as explained below.

Production by region

There have been a few differences in how regions have been affected this year. The East of England has seen the largest rise in production, up 88Kt, despite some difficult lifting conditions. The West Midlands and Wales (combined**), along with the East Midlands, have also seen a decent increase to their production compared to 2019. Collectively these regions are up 108Kt, despite a drop in their planted area. This again is attributed to higher yields and increased clearance.

While overall GB production has increased on last year, some regions have experienced a drop in production this year. Yorks and Humber have seen the largest hit, with a reduction of 4Kt compared to 2019 at 657Kt. A decrease in estimated yields is the main driver behind the production drop for this region. 

Production by sector

The two largest sectors in Great Britain have both experienced an uplift in production, despite differences in planted area. Production for the pre-pack sector is estimated at 2.09Mt, up 2.8% compared to 2019. Although there has been marginal rise in yields and clearance for this sector, the biggest driver was from increased planted area. For processing and other ware (combined**), a rise in production to 1.93Mt is estimated, driven by improved yields and much better clearance. In January 2020, it was estimated that c.9% of the 2019 processing and other ware planted area was yet to be lifted. This compares to less than 1% currently (2020 crop). 

These two sectors have been experiencing very different demand throughout 2020, due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The packing sector has experienced relatively strong demand throughout the past 9 months. However, with an increased area on contract, this has not been felt as much as perhaps anticipated in the free-buy market.

Conversely, the processing sector has been somewhat lacking in demand compared to usual, with the loss of major events and limited capacity from foodservice. In particular, pub and restaurant trade has struggled, with varying degrees of lockdown measures throughout the country since March this year. It is key to note though that 1.93Mt production is actually mid-range in size compared to processing (and other ware) production since 2010. Also the roll-out of a vaccine this month is bringing some hope that events will be able to recommence and foodservice return to more normal trading habits in 2021. If this is the case, this could bring the much needed support that the processing sector needs.  

Seed production is estimated at 519Kt, down 41Kt (7.3%) year-on-year. There was a reduction in the planted area to seed and also yield has taken a hit as well this year. Although the end of the transition period is nearing, England and Wales will accept EU seed potatoes as equivalent for certification for six months after 31 December 2020 according to Defra, allowing a smoother transition. This means that despite a lower domestic supply, the UK will still have access to EU seed supply for the upcoming season. Scotland will continue to operate its voluntary arrangement with industry on sourcing seed potatoes locally to maintain Scotland’s higher phytosanitary status.

Conclusion

With GB production at 5.37Mt* this season, the rise has not meant a “huge” crop comparatively. However, this season has experienced demand destruction for certain sectors unlike any other year. The processing sector, along with fresh chipping, are those most affected. Both sectors are estimated to have seen an increase in production compared to 2019, but there is some optimism that the roll-out of a vaccine will help to bring some normality back to trade in 2021.

Both trade negotiations and vaccine progress will be key news stories in the potato industry, as positive developments in both will be key to trade.

Additional information

Notes

*Please note statistical 95% confidence limits for this production estimate are +/-3%, which means that the final figure for 2020 could lie between the range of 5.22Mt to 5.52Mt.

**Some sectors and regions have been combined due to data availability.

Alice Bailey

Senior Analyst

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