Potato planting in Scotland is all but finished with only round 10% still to be planted. The actual acreage planted is difficult to clarify since the since the demise of the AHDB, but Robert Doig from Caledonian Potatoes reckons it will be down between 5-10%, from what other growers have been saying.
There has been plenty of press about the ban on the import and export of seed potatoes between the UK and Europe, it was initially thought that nothing would be imported from Europe this season so UK seed producers grew more to fill the gap, but it turns out there was a loophole and there have been imports of seed from Europe after all, but no export.
There are still no European seed potatoes allowed into Scotland and some parts of England which are considered to be protected regions, Scotland also has different legislation prohibiting imports. An industry source said that the amount imported into England is difficult to clarify as figures are open to interpretation but it is thought that around 3000 tons, nothing like the 28,000 tons which was imported previously.
English growers can import seed potatoes but they cannot market them, so the importer must be the person planting the potatoes and they must be purchased In Europe.
This situation leaves seed potato growers who planted to fill the gap with tons of seed which is only fit for animal feed.
“Cost inflation is a big concern across the board but for potatoes growers it is huge. We are a fuel-based industry and the cost of fuel has doubled, fertilizer costs are up and we are yet feel the full brunt of the increase in electricity prices. We use a huge amount of electricity for storing the potatoes.”
Energy contracts are renewed at different times, and some growers are looking at quotes for renewal at the moment. Robert said the best he can expect is to go from paying £7000 per month to 17,000 – 18,000 per month.
“To make matters worse most retailer contracts were signed in January, some retailers have adjusted the price they will pay for potatoes but not all. Even with the price increase from retailers it will still not be enough for growers to cover costs. All fresh produce growers are in the same boat and retailers must face this or end up with empty shelves. Potato growers won’t be able to sustain this for another year and businesses will close in a big way. The price of wheat is high so those who can, may go over to wheat production and forget about the less profitable crops.”
Although this is hitting the headlines now it has been going on for years according to Robert.
“The supply chain has gotten shorter over the last 10 years, we have to supply directly to retailers now. If you don’t have retail contract you don’t sell your produce, growers have no option. The buyer has the power here in the UK. Also, if you are supplying retail you have to supply the volume agreed, so growers need to grow more to allow for loss or product which does not meet the specs. If they produce too much then it goes on the spot market. If every grower is doing this the spot market gets flooded and prices are very low, retailers see this and ask why a grower is selling so cheaply to other buyers and want to lower the contract price for the next year. The whole system is so broken we are in danger of falling over the edge.”
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