Uncertainty slows movement of Scottish potatoes

UK seed potato growers facie political uncertainty around exports to the EU
UK seed potato growers facie political uncertainty around exports to the EU

Almost half of the Scottish potato crop was still in grower-held stores at the end of January, according to an estimate by the AHDB.

Scotland accounted for 29 percent (608.7Kt) of what remained in UK growers' ownership at the end of January, the levy organisation said in a new report.

While there was a slight uplift in production in Scotland, much of the Scottish area is grown for seed production.

There have been reports that growers delayed their seed orders this year whilst deciding what to plant, awaiting news for the industry as the pandemic pans out.

Those growing seed are also facing political uncertainty around UK exports to the European Union.

AHDB’s Head of Potato Exports, Patrick Hughes has been working with the government to supply evidence to those in UK and EU trade talks.

He said the UK and the EU continued to discuss equivalence for seed potatoes, and progress was being made.

"As things stand, it is very unlikely that a future trade deal in seed potatoes will be in place prior to seed crop planting for the 2021 season," Mr Hughes noted.

This would leave the sector facing difficult decisions around their planting arrangements for 2021, he said.

"Seed potatoes specifically scheduled for EU export will either not be planted or will be significantly reduced and a greater emphasis placed on supplying the domestic or alternative international markets.”

Potatoes have seen strong performance at supermarkets in the last quarter, with volume sales up 13.9 percent year on year, according to Kantar.

Meanwhile there is hope that a summer with fewer restrictions on hospitality businesses and a UK ‘staycation’ boom could drive late-season demand.

Alice Bailey, AHDB's Senior Analyst for Potatoes, said that with the bulk of any uplift coming as the market switches from old to new season crop, the data suggested what is currently in store will cover any demand rise.

“Following the government’s release of the roadmap out of lockdown, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel for many within the industry," she said.

"A return of hospitality and the foodservice sector in the coming months are providing hope for increased trade.

"With stocks slightly higher than previous years, it is likely that growers have the volume of potatoes to cover it – assuming that the quality holds.”