Better relationships between potato growers and the rest of the supply chain are needed if the sector is to cope with its current downturn.
The fresh potato industry has been hit by declining consumption combined with good production over the past two years which has led to dangerously high stocks, and a subsequent crash in price.
The Potato Council has voiced concerns over how the stocks, estimated to be equivalent to two boxes per hectare in November, will be consumed by the industry, and sector chiefs have warned of the need for a 10 per cent cut in production in the forthcoming season.
Herefordshire potato grower and Potato Council board member Bill Quan said: “I think to get through this both sides need to stick together, the farmer and the buyer need to help each other.
He urged farmers not to grow without a firm idea of where their potatoes would be sold.
He said: “We have to get close to our customer. Do not grow for the unknown and make sure you have a market.”
For the week ended February 20, the GB weekly average was £125.20/tonne, down £23/t on last year. The GB free buy average was down £85.96/t, down £59.11/t.
Mr Quan echoed the industry feeling a 10 per cent cut in production was needed to right the market, but he said farmers’ own decision-making on profitability would determine how achievable this was.
Alistair Melrose, a grower in Brechin, Angus, also sits on the Potato Council board. He underlined the high-capital nature of the potato sector but said some farmers may be considering their acreage.
“The biggest fear is the uncertainty of it all going forward,” he said. “In all the years I have been in the industry this is as bad as it has been.”
Fresh potato purchases have declined in recent years as consumer have reduced supply chain waste. Mr Quan insisted consumers were still eating lots of potatoes but the market was now more crowded with competitive products such as burritos noodles and ciabatta wraps.