It is without doubt that today’s potato growers face challenges. With farming and storage costs rising, the bumps in the road are bigger than ever before. But, the presence of risk often brings reward, and it’s how we mitigate the uncertainty to protect the sector that truly matters.
At the moment the optimism can be hard to find, with the World Potato Markets estimating a 10 per cent reduction in land being used to grow potatoes this year. Spiraling costs are at play, with energy bills up by 165 per cent, fertiliser by 40 per cent and workforce costs by 13 per cent, resulting in some growers turning their back on potatoes altogether.
But, what would the sector look like without British potato farming? Do we still hold our value? Due to the implications of Brexit, it is more difficult than ever to import potatoes from the continent, which in turn creates resistance from importers wanting to ship to the UK. This actually increases the value of UK-produced potatoes, with buying British also remaining a key pull for retail customers. Not only that, growers in continental Europe face the same challenges as growers here too. Costs are rising at the same proportion across the board, the answer is in how we respond.
Economically, the bigger picture still looks bright, so finding solutions right now to regain stability is our main motivation. Through our grower joint ventures we take 100 per cent of a grower’s potato production and market their crop to our extensive network both in the UK and Europe, underpinned by a commitment from us to work with the grower to ensure their potato enterprise is profitable. This way of working provides a healthy return for growers with an easy route to market to keep them in business.
But nevertheless, why should growers stick with potatoes? Quite simply, the“British farmed” message benefits retailers and continues to be a desirable asset when it comes to customer purchasing decisions. This is backed by recent Onepoll research that reports 73% of the public often or always look specifically for British food when shopping, with 75% voicing a positive view of UK farming, amounting to record breaking levels of support for the sector. This trend shows no sign of slowing down, as we see the British farmed message continuing to create demand in the retail space.
This trend is further evidenced through the financial backing the sector has seen by some of the industry’s bigger players. For example, McCain recently announced an investment worth £35m for its farmers, by committing to a 31 per cent contract indexation increase. This is followed by the company’s £5m energy support package made last year. With big potato processors stepping up to support the industry shows its economic value.
But, the vision has to balance with practical solutions that ease financial pressures being felt right now, particularly in relation to energy costs. Our storage facility is available to growers and has capacity to hold 36,000 tonnes of potatoes, utilising modern state-of-the-art computer controlled cold stores to keep potatoes in the very best condition. Storing potatoes with us allows for not only peace of mind but for growers to spread and elevate their marketing plans with the additional capacity to store.
Undoubtedly, the industry is experiencing a period of change and uncertainty, but all is not lost. The key is being able to adapt to the volatility and preserve the future of British farming for the benefit of all – grower, retailer and the consumer. Tackling challenges with both realism and optimism to evolve the sector. To quote the American philosopher, Nicholas M Butler: “Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progression.”