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GB potato production falls to 4.89Mt, lowest since 2012

Publication Date: 
11 December 2018

Aidan Wright, Analyst, aidan.wright@ahdb.org.uk, 02476 478 894 

The first provisional estimate of total potato production in Great Britain for the 2018 crop is 4,887Kt. This is a 1,156Kt drop from last season and 13% below the five year average (2013-2017, 5,619Kt). Production is the lowest since 2012, a year also categorised by extremely difficult growing conditions and is only the fourth year that production has dipped below 5Mt since 1960.

The 2018 estimated average net yield for GB is 41.7t/ha, down 7.6t/ha from last season and 12% below average (2013-2017, 47.4t/ha). A combination of late planting and the prolonged hot and dry weather stalling tuber growth earlier in the season has largely impacted yields. The latest market intelligence publication of GB Potatoes contains further information and insight on the impact of conditions throughout the last growing season.

Production by sector

Production of potatoes destined for known market sectors declined this season. For sectors where the expected market sector was not known (other ware), production demonstrated a slight increase.

The largest absolute fall in production was from the prepack sector, which fell 458Kt on the year, to 1,882Kt. The decline in available prepack supplies may be partially mitigated by the fact that packhouses were able to utilise price competitive old crop supplies well into September. The usage of the larger than average carryover from last season will have helped reduced some pressure on new crop supplies and has the potential to shorten the season by at least three weeks.

Production for the fresh chipping and processing markets decreased significantly from last season, to 461Kt and 1,574Kt respectively. However, widespread secondary growth has resulted in variable frying performance and will likely lower the proportion of the crop that meets the desired specification.

Seed production this season fell to 563Kt, a 10% reduction on the year. It is unknown what the full impact of conditions this season will have had on the crop, but the likelihood is that widespread quality issues will reduce the proportion of seed meeting certification specification, including size. This could further tighten the seed availability, with reports of increased seed prices already coming forward, driven by restricted supplies both domestically and on the continent.

Production by region

In general, yields across Great Britain varied significantly dependent on availability of irrigation and soil type. Despite this, some overarching trends can be seen and distinctive regional splits have emerged.

However, of note is the difference recorded for Scottish production; the drought having significantly less impact on crops north of the border than for the remainder of Great Britain. Scottish production dropped to 1,200Kt, due to a reduction in area, with crops escaping much of the impact of the drought. Yields in Scotland were above average at 49.2t/ha, a 3% increase from 2017.

Meanwhile, average English yields this season fell to 40.1t/ha, with large falls in production recorded in most regions. The Eastern counties appear to have been particularly affected, with yields down 18% from 2017, at 40.4t/ha.

Conclusion

The reduced production this year could continue to lend support to prices as the season progresses, though the extent of this remains to be seen. While the total production figure sits at 4,887Kt, persistent quality issues this season means that the proportion of production which is usable for its intended purpose is likely to be a fair amount lower.

In addition, anecdotal reports of growers moving a larger than normal proportion of supplies earlier in the season, due to concerns around storability, may mean that the rate of drawdown in stocks diverge from normal trends. The storage survey, which provides data on quantity of crops held in grower stores at the end of November, will shed light on the tightness of supply moving into the New Year.

However, Dr Rob Clayton, Sector Strategy Director of AHDB Potatoes, had this to say on the impact of this season on consumers. “It is important to remember we won’t run out of potatoes. We didn’t in 2012, and we won’t in 2018. But what consumers will notice is a wider range of shapes and sizes in the bag they bring home to cook with.”

Keep an eye out for the results in Potato Weekly along with more analysis, prices and storage updates throughout the season.

i. Total production is the total harvested volume of the GB crop measured in metric tonnes. It excludes field leavings and material graded out prior to storage or sale.

ii. Potato yields are net of crop losses and on-farm grading waste. Yields are estimated from the Grower Panel, which is a stratified random sample of 500 crops from growers. For this report, data from a sub-sample of 401 crops was available.

iii. The area estimate of 117Kha, as at November 2018, includes all potato planting in GB and is made up of both AHDB registered and unregistered area. It is based on a sample of 96% of registered growers.

iv. The area estimate has confidence limits of +/- 0.3%.  The statistical confidence interval for yield is ±3.0%, indicating that there is a 94% probability that, based on this sample, the GB total production figure is within the range 4.74 to 5.03 million tonnes.

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