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Analyst Insight: British climate leaves 2019 potato production uncertain

Thursday, 21 November 2019

British climate leaves 2019 potato production uncertain

Prospects for the 2019 potato crop were looking promising in the late summer after swift spring planting and much more favourable growing season after the drought of 2018.

After such a hard season in 2018, and with a tight seed market, it was unsurprising that a lot of the industry was cautious with planting decisions. Planted area remained stable at 118,953 hectares a slight increase on the year, but still one of the lowest on record.

The 2019 summer was a mixture of sunshine and showers. This combination of warm, wet conditions increased disease risk, with blight a concern. Speaking to growers, yields were said to be average to good but not exceptional.

And then, as store loading was getting going, there was torrential rain for most of the country. Much of the North West, Yorkshire and the East Midlands had over 175 per cent of ‘normal’ rainfall in October. While Scotland and some parts of the south were less severely affected.

Lifting was interrupted with growers getting out whenever they could. But with little let up in the rain, conditions were exceptionally difficult for many growers. Especially for those on heavier soils.

Normally at this time of year we’d use data from around 400 growers to calculate an estimate of yield and production. However, given the exceptional circumstances this year we’ve only had half of the forms in at this point.

With the situation as it is, we’ve put together an early, provisional production estimate for this year. This will be updated when we’ve got more data.

Bearing that in mind, early figures suggest a production level of around 5.1 million tonnes. This is based on an average yield of close to 45 tonnes a hectare, and takes into account losses of just over 3% at this stage. However, a week ago our lifting report estimated that there was still 11% of the crop left in the ground by 12 November. How much of this will come out of the ground is uncertain and it is likely that we will see an increase in the area lost as later forms are returned.

We will update the production number once we have received more data as the final stages of lifting are completed and decisions about lost area are made.

The situation is likely to be the worst for processing crops with the hardest hit areas in the North of England and Yorks/Humber holding 30% of the GB processing crop.

Compared to the same time last year we had a production level of 4.918 million tonnes.

With much of the crop so wet at harvest it’s not just going to be a question of tonnage produced. There are also concerns about how well the crop will store, particularly managing rots.

To preserve the crop, careful store management will be critical. We were already seeing higher levels of wastage before the rainfall and this is likely to increase as the season progresses.

David Eudall

Head of Market Specialists (Arable)

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