Climate change impacts on UK potato production: industry options and responses


In GB, there will be many implications of climate change for the potato industry, including the possibility that warmer springs will result in earlier plantings with consequent impacts on canopy management, as well as changes in crop husbandry and the potential for higher yields.  The areas suitable for new potato plantings may also increase, due to changing local soil and agroclimate conditions.  However, a reduction in the availability and reliability of water supplies may lead to a shift in cropping to parts of the country where there is less reliance on supplemental irrigation.  But equally, there may be areas (and cultivars) where irrigation is not currently required, which may require irrigation. 

The impacts of climate change on the yield (t ha-1) and irrigation needs (mm) of a pre-pack variety cv. Maris Piper were assessed by combining the outputs from the latest UK scenarios of climate change (UKCP09) with a potato crop growth model (SUBSTOR–Potato) for a historical baseline and then for selected emissions scenario for the 2050s.


The crop model was validated using experimental and field data from four reference sites (Cambridge University Farm, and three farms in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Suffolk). Assuming crop husbandry factors are unchanged, farm yields would show only marginal increases (3-6%) due to climate change owing to limitations in nitrogen availability. In contrast, future potential yields, without restrictions in water or fertiliser, were projected to increase by 13-16%, mainly due to increased temperatures, radiation and CO2 fertilisation effects. Future average irrigation needs, assuming unconstrained water availability, were predicted to increase by 14-30%, depending on the emissions scenario.

Current irrigation schemes and infrastructure are typically designed to satisfy needs in the 5th driest year in 20 (i.e. with an 80% probability of non-exceedance). However, the analyses showed that future peak irrigation needs might exceed current design criteria in nearly 50% of future years. Growers should consider these potential consequences carefully when planning investments in irrigation technology (application equipment) and water resources (e.g. winter storage) to ensure future potato yields and quality are not compromised.

As with all climate change impact assessments, the results need to be interpreted with caution. The crop modelling assumed unchanged farm practices in the future, but in reality there would be some degree of adaptation, even if not planned. For potatoes, this could include earlier planting and harvest dates, changing to better adapted varieties, less dependence on soils with low water holding capacities, crop movement to regions with suitable agroclimate and water availability. 

Project code:
05 May 2011 - 01 October 2008
Project leader:
Jerry Knox


Summary presentation R404 Final Report (2011) Five page summary booklet (2011)

About this project

To assess and quantify the likely impacts of climate change on potato production, focussing principally on yield (including quality) and water use, in selected processing and pre-pack varieties.