Author: Maddy Faulkner

A closer look at the potato supply chain ahead of 2024 planting season

Last year, the potato supply chain was impacted by several challenges that unfortunately lead to poor-yielding crops. A cold, late spring and drought until June followed by unprecedented rainfall in the autumn months resulted in poor quality crops in store, and large amounts of potatoes left unharvested, resulting in a very tight supply scenario, with the market experiencing a near-800,000 tonnes shortage in potatoes. 

These challenges brought the risks associated with growing potatoes to light, and paired with a shortage of seed potatoes for 2024, growers have been questioning the benefits of growing potatoes. The cost associated with potato farming has also increased significantly over the past two seasons, with customer contract prices struggling to keep pace with inflation in some cases, all adding to the commercial stress within the supply chain. 

A new government support regime for agriculture promises to support growers and remove land from food production and put it into environmental schemes – a good return for little work and investment. 

“Speaking at the National Farmers Union Conference in Birmingham, the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary announced a range of measures to boost productivity and resilience in the sector, including the largest ever grant offer for farmers in the coming financial year, expected to total £427 million.

This includes doubling investment in productivity schemes, bolstering schemes such as the Improving Farming Productivity grant, which provides support for farmers to invest in automation and robotics, as well as solar installations to build on-farm energy security.” (Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-underlines-commitment-to-british-farmers)

There are some customers who have listened and understood the results of 2023 crops, and have adapted supply terms to make the best use of the crops that are available, whereas other customers have struggled to come to terms with the shortage. This split is also apparent with 2024/25 contract prices, with some customers moving towards sensible price increases and others ignoring the issues. 

It is positive that we are seeing an increasing number of the most forward-thinking, major buyers adapting their pricing, as well as quickly changing their specifications to respond to difficult seasons – in recognition of the risks and changes needed to ensure grower returns and sustainability. 

This needs to continue and buyers that don’t respond to these new market challenges risk being left behind. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we are certainly seeing those that will lead the way making these changes now, and they will be the ones with potatoes secured for the 2024-25 season.

 It’s important to keep in mind that with the right contracting and marketing plans, there are still very profitable returns to be made from growing potatoes. The issues associated with seed will continue to be turbulent for a year or two yet, but there are solutions on the horizon. We’ve been working closely with seed breeders and our customers to strengthen the seed supply chain, ensuring there are key varieties for future growing programmes. 

There is still seed available for 2024 planting, and AKP can provide solutions and support to growers who aren’t fully covered. Our customer position is continuing to evolve with all customers wanting more reliable results. It’s our goal to continue providing support, options and assistance to customers in the knowledge that we grow better together.

Establishing seed plans

At AKP Group, we produce and supply over 14,000 tonnes of premium potato seed to businesses across the UK and abroad each year. We know how important it is for our network of growers to cater to their own customers’ requirements, and our team has a wealth of knowledge and expertise when it comes to the growing, storing and marketing of potato seed.

To meet growing demand for high-quality seed, we are committed to ensuring the sustainable production of our seed, ensuring long-term satisfaction – not only today, but also in the years to come. 

Last year, ongoing challenges such as adverse weather conditions and the conflict in Ukraine led to a contraction in the volume of potatoes grown, resulting in a rapid depletion of national seed production. This has forced our customers to make urgent decisions, and as a consequence, we are also now in advanced discussions with them to make longer term commitments on seed. To address potential shortages for the upcoming harvest, we encouraged our growers to secure their seed orders sooner rather than later, so that we could cater to their individual requirements. 

As we look ahead to the 2025 planting season, we are initiating and encouraging discussions about seed availability. This summer, we’re welcoming new customers to view our growing stocks of seed, to help them to choose the best options to suit their business.

Our seed supply

We’re proud of our ongoing relationships with the UK’s major seed houses, who work tirelessly to develop and supply varieties that meet and exceed expectations, amidst changing growing conditions. These long-standing relationships allow us to supply a number of potato varieties ideal for crisping, chipping and prepacking – 35 principle varieties, to be exact.

We can cater for seed supply throughout the country, from the Black Isle to Gloucestershire, and our dedicated team is on hand to support growers throughout the seed selection process. We’re here to help growers fulfil their requirements, from large-scale supply of our most popular varieties, to small quantities of lesser-known, niche varieties.

As a result of our ever-changing climate, growers are showing a preference for varieties that can withstand harsh weather conditions, and with disease resistant properties. 

The process

Healthy, high-quality seed potatoes are essential for growing vigorous, high-yielding and marketable potato crops.  

Our ability to trace our seed back to its origins allows us to consistently provide the highest quality seed potatoes. By overseeing the production of our seed, we gain extensive control over its quality. This, in turn, guarantees our growers receive precisely what they expect – premium seed at the best price.

Our seed is cultivated in optimal conditions, with a low incidence of disease and virus, and it is regularly inspected to uphold crop health. We work with our seed suppliers throughout the potato production chain, from mini-tuber production to classification. The mini-tuber production process is carried out under strict conditions, enabling our seed to have the best, disease-free start. 

Thanks to the stringent Seed Potato Classification Scheme (SPCS), which is imposed upon the entire seed production chain, our seed potatoes retain their high-health status, right up to the point of sale. Growers can rest assured knowing that our commitment to delivering excellence remains at the heart of what we do.

Our growers can be confident that they are buying and growing seed that has been produced by experts, under the best possible conditions. Working closely with them, we ensure a supply of healthy, quality and marketable produce, 365 days per year.

Planning for 2025

We possess an in-depth understanding of our crop availability and align it meticulously with the specific needs of our growers, and meet the demands of customers in the respective markets.

Given the industry’s challenge of limited seed supply, we are encouraging all customers, whether longstanding or new, to promptly establish their seed plans for the upcoming 2025 season and beyond. In anticipation of an increased demand, particularly for sought-after varieties such as King Edward, we advise growers to take proactive measures, as these varieties are expected to be in high demand sooner rather than later.

We’re open to discussions with customers who would like to discuss the availability of seed for planting as soon as possible. If you are a grower looking to realise your potential, or a customer who needs a reliable supplier, get in touch with our team today. 

Together, we will all grow better together.

Harvest Review 2023

This year has presented formidable challenges for the potato sector. The lingering impact of COVID-19, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, rampant inflation, and volatile weather has resulted in a perfect storm. 

These challenges have also significantly impacted the wider agricultural industry, causing ripple effects throughout the entire global food market.

Here in the UK, challenges of late and unseasonable weather during this year’s harvest season have dominated our own thoughts, and that of the wider potato industry.

Current crop status

This season, we’ve experienced a cold, wet spring, which delayed the planting of potato seed. Summer was cooler than last year, with low light levels, and high temperatures in early September. Four named storms hit the UK during the autumn, from late September to mid-November. These contributed to exceptionally wet and, at times, stormy weather, which caused widespread impact. 

This pattern of wet weather resulted in waterlogged fields, affecting the progress of this season’s harvest significantly. Waterlogged fields result in distressed crops and, if left for too long, will result in rotten potatoes.

At the annual British Potato Show in November, the general consensus without hard data, was that up to 15% of the UK crop and 40% of the Irish crop was yet to be harvested, as a result of the poor weather.

It’s highly likely that a proportion of the crop will be left in the ground until the spring, when we will see what can be salvaged. The potatoes that are lifted will be of poorer quality with high levels of rot. The condition of these potatoes will need to be monitored closely for long-term storability.

So far in December, we’ve already experienced icy conditions and snowfall, which will only further exacerbate the condition of the potatoes in the ground. 

The Farmers Guardian estimates that the UK potato crop could be as low as 4.14 tonnes this season, compared to 6.2 million tonnes in 2017. This would make it the lowest potato crop ever recorded in the UK.

The shortages of potatoes may result in an increase in prices, and a reduction in availability.

The problems haven’t solely affected the UK crop, however. Reports from Holland suggest that up to 2 million tonnes of potatoes are unlikely to be harvested this side of Christmas.

Working with our growers and partners

On our own farm, we have about 5% of our total area left to harvest. We’re working closely with our growers to make the most of the crops that are currently being harvested.

Our transport, storage and grading facilities have never been so important. Growers are utilising our transport services to move their crops into dry conditions, while our grading services are essential for removing soil to ensure optimal crop conditions for marketing or storage.

We’re also working closely with customers to ensure that, wherever possible, supply and contract plans are interrupted as much as possible.

Looking to 2024

Our team is currently reviewing seed outputs from the 2023 harvest, to ascertain availability of seed stock, ahead of 2024 planting.

Anticipating a tight seed supply for the 2024 crop, we’re encouraging all growers and customers to get their seed plans confirmed as soon as possible. This will dictate growing plans for 2024, with the most popular and premium varieties, such as King Edward, already in very short supply.

Discussions with all customers regarding 2024 supply programmes are ongoing, and we will have contracts available for consideration throughout December. 

We’re encouraging growers and partners to sign up as soon as possible, to ensure that everyone’s expectations are met for the year ahead.

If you’d like to speak to us about your requirements for the year ahead, get in touch with a member of our team today.

Welcoming Wolds Produce into the AKP Group

We recently welcomed Wolds Produce into the AKP Group.

As one of the country’s top seed production and potato marketing businesses, Wolds Produce supplies quality seed potatoes to all sectors of the potato market.

Wolds Produce was set up as a potato trading business in 2004, offering crops from the Yorkshire Wolds region to packers. The company has since grown to become a major potato supplier in the crisping, chipping and potato seed industries, and currently trades over 50,000 tonnes of potatoes in the UK and abroad. 

By combining the expertise, resources and experience of AKP Group and Wolds Produce, we can achieve economies of scale. Our complementary partnership will drive innovation and build a stronger, more resilient supply chain, ultimately contributing to the growth of the UK farming sector.

Together, we’re working hard to elevate industry standards, improve profitability and maintain an efficient, robust supply chain.

Working with Wolds produce means that we can provide a comprehensive potato supply chain solution, from variety and seed selection, to new contracting opportunities, as well as the utilisation of superior grading and storage facilities.

All of this ensures that the right potatoes are distributed to the right market, at the right price.

Wolds Produce is also one of the largest independent seed producers in the UK, supplying high-quality seed to businesses across the country, and supplying potatoes into many of the UK’s well known crisp manufacturers.

We look forward to merging our expertise and consolidating our respective strengths to make it happen for UK farming.

Supporting wellbeing in farming communities with Take One a Day

We recently sponsored an important and meaningful project, Take One a Day –  a photography exhibition at Spout Yard Park Gallery in Louth, dedicated to finding positivity in nature by discovering something beautiful every day.

Created by amateur photographer Paul Gutherson in November 2020, he was compelled to share his pieces through a tragedy that changed him forever, after he unexpectedly discovered a person who had died by suicide during a morning dog walk.

It was on a stretch of the River Lud in Louth that Paul knew very well and had loved since he was a boy. The spot was intrinsically linked to the surrounding landscape he had grown up in, which had shaped him and his relationship with the world.

With the help of counselling, Paul realised he needed to reclaim his natural environment from a place of trauma and shock and use creativity to restore his joy in life. That’s when he began to take one a day; one photograph every day to help him rediscover the beauty of the Lincolnshire landscape. He searched for the positive in the huge skies above the expansive flat fields, on the beaches, along the dykes, and finally, back at the canal. He put these images out on social media every day, and began his healing journey.

Humbled by Paul’s discovery, the locality of the incident and the real mental health challenges that exist in farming communities, we felt inspired to become involved. According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 36 suicides recorded in England and Wales among those working in the farming and agricultural industry in 2021. Meanwhile, 22 farm workers lost their lives in fatal accidents in 2021/22, underlying the need for mental health resources and support.

Supporting Paul’s landscapes at the exhibition will be work from award-winning photographic artist Richard Ansett. Richard, himself a Samaritans volunteer, was invited to Louth to explore the themes through portraiture of local mental health advocates and those suffering from some of the issues raised. A further collection of this work will be unveiled in the zine Man Up.

Paul says: “Sometimes the photograph itself is not that important. It is the purposeful act of seeking something beautiful. Shutting out negative self-talk through the discipline of looking, especially on difficult days, is what becomes important.”

AKP Group’s managing director, Richard Arundel, commented: “We’re driven by people, and as partners to farmers and growers across the country, we are no strangers to the prevalent mental health challenges within farming. It can be an isolating and lonely industry at times, and we are extremely proud to be sponsors of this impactful exhibition and all that it stands for.”