Potato crops progressing well
Despite a season of extremes, growers and suppliers are optimistic about the quality and quantity of this year’s crop.
AHDB’s initial estimates of planted area in 2020 sit at 119,000 Ha. “This should give the market a fair degree of confidence, that notwithstanding COVID-19 resurgence supply and demand should be in some sort of equilibrium,” says Agrico Executive Director, Archie Gibson.
“We’ve substantial business in the bag trade sector, supplying growers with seed potatoes of chipping varieties: Agria , Markies, Fontane, Performer, Babylon and Lugano , and we’ve sold a ‘normal’ book of seed – making this year comparable with 2019 despite covid-19.”
“Quality it set to be good too; crops are growing well,” he continues. “We started the season with very wet weather which continued through until spring, when a hot and dry spell put many places into drought conditions. Our next generation varieties such as: Performer, Lugano and Babylon in particular, have risen to the challenges of the season so far.”
Christopher Lee, P J Lee & Sons Limited grows all four varieties for bag and chipping sectors on his 11,800-acre farm in East Anglia. He said.
“Increased efficiencies from new machinery and improved ground conditions after the extremely wet winter meant we were planted up in just 4 weeks. While we are getting a little rain now, the drought in late spring meant we’ve had to irrigate extensively with the companies 42 reels. The crops though, are looking good and we’ll be harvesting a week earlier than anticipated.”
The recent warmer, wetter weather provides ideal conditions for pests and diseases as well as crops.
“Growers are well aware of the rising threats,” reassures Mr Gibson. “They’ve appropriate programmes in place and will be paying close attention to the detail to ensure crops remain healthy.”
“About a month or so ago the aphids moved in and virus pressure was high,” explains Mr Lee. “But we’ve ample spraying capacity so protecting crops from aphid-borne viruses and blight hasn’t become a pinch point.”
“Everything from fertiliser applications to crop protection has been applied on time and we’re heading for a very good quality consistent crop this year.”
Having found alternative outlets for most of their potatoes, P J Lee & Sons have just a weeks’ worth of 2019 in store. But the effects of covid hit the farm hard, with demand for potatoes drying up almost overnight.
“Demand in the bagging sector rose a couple of weeks ago and has stabilised, though not at levels we’d normally expect for this time of year,” notes Mr Gibson.
Footfall in coastal areas is noted to be down, and not as high as anticipated as the British public remains cautious and social distancing measures remain, observes AHDB senior analyst, Charlie Reeve. As a result, bag prices are levelling out.
“It’s looking like there will be a good supply of quality potatoes at good prices for chip shops in the weeks and months to come,” says Archie.