The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said that potato growers are calling for political action to “save the great British spud”, as potato crops come under increasing pressure.

The past three years have seen potato growers facing drought, floods and months of heavy rain this season, as growers 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 inputs like fertiliser and energy for storing potatoes have remained “unsustainably high”, with the compound cost of production in the sector reportedly increasing by 28% over the past two years.

NFU potato policy group vice chair Alastair Heath said: “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 homegrown 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.”

UK “cannot rely on imports”

NFU said that supply chains had been working with growers to be flexible with specifications to use as much of the crop as possible, as a way to help reduce the impact on shoppers. It also said that imports were being used so the “public aren’t faced with empty shelves”.

NFU has also warned that the UK “cannot rely on imports as a backup plan, as doing so comes with its own risks”. Across the EU, potato supplies are also reported to be tight due to “widespread shortage of seed potatoes” and “similarly poor” 2023 harvests and planting conditions.

“[The UK] cannot rely on imports as a backup plan, as doing so comes with its own risks.”

Heath added: “We can no longer assume that we will always have access to food imports to plug gaps in our own market. Given the volatile global environment we find ourselves operating in, this is not an effective contingency plan for our food security.

“Our next Government – whoever may lead it – must focus on building resilience, confidence and profitability on farms at home, so products like the great British potato can continue to grace family dinner tables long into the future.

“As political parties vie for votes, I urge them to recognise this example of why policies to boost homegrown food production must be a priority – because it is for voters.”

Protecting British potatoes

NFU said that with the average person in the UK eating around 33kg of potatoes a year, the union was urging the future Government to put practical policies in place to “protect and boost” British potato production – and other homegrown foods.

NFU asked for:

  • A plan for a “proactive” management of watercourses to reduce the risk of flooding and enable access to water in times of drought
  • A plan for the use and availability of plant protection products
  • An agricultural budget of £5.5 billion for England and Wales that “underpins business resilience”, including schemes to drive productivity and adapt to climate change.

It also highlighted that it would like supermarkets to “continue to support suppliers” by maintaining the relaxation of supermarket specifications of potatoes to “ensure that quality potatoes aren’t going to waste”.