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NFU calls for action to save the great British potato

The NFU is warning of the effect weather, input costs and trade are having on the nation's favourite ingredient – the great British potato – and is calling for urgent action to prevent a tightening of supply of this household staple.

Potato growers are calling for political action to save the great British spud, with the future of the home-grown crop coming under increasing pressure.

Potato growth under threat
The past three years have seen potato growers facing drought, flood and months of heavy rain this season, culminating in a perfect storm for the great British potato. Hard-working growers have reported significant delays in the lifting of the 2023 crop and a further delay in planting the 2024 crop.

At the same time, costs of key inputs like fertiliser and energy for storing potatoes have remained unsustainably high, with the compound cost of production in the sector increasing by 28% over the past two years.

British potatoes are usually available for people to buy all year round – a firm favourite on family dinner tables and the essential ingredient in the nation's favourite – fish and chips.

But consecutive years of extreme, volatile weather and soaring costs have taken their toll on family businesses, leading to a tightening supply of this household staple.

NFU Potato Policy Group vice chair Alastair Heath said: "The potato is versatile, nutritious and affordable, making it not only a national favourite but a staple part of most people's diets. Yet the future of British potatoes is at risk."

Farmer confidence breakdown
Alastair added: "A number of growers have made the difficult choice to reduce production to minimise losses, and the relentless wet weather has put many more growers weeks behind schedule. For some, profits have been all but wiped out.

"Business confidence is low and investment has become a far-away concept, which is putting pressure on British potato supplies in the short-term. While it's unlikely to lead to empty shelves this year, this pressure on the home-grown crop is an indication that we need urgent action to prevent the situation getting worse. I believe we can and should be self-sufficient in potatoes."

Future supply at risk
To help reduce the impact on shoppers, supply chains have been working with growers to be flexible with specifications to use as much of the British crop as possible, and more imports are also being used, so the public aren't faced with empty shelves.

However, for such a staple British crop, the NFU is warning that the UK cannot rely on imports as a backup plan, as doing so comes with its own risks.

For example, across the EU, potato supplies are also tight due to a widespread shortage of seed potatoes and similarly poor 2023 harvests and planting conditions.
Pre-Brexit, seed potatoes were imported from Scotland, but it is now becoming increasingly difficult to secure the future supply of ware potatoes. A resumption of reciprocal trade of seed potatoes between the EU and GB would help to address the current shortage in seed potatoes.


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