Potato farmers fear yields will be hit as mercury rises

Robert Strathern of Fairfields Farm with his potato crop, which is under stress because of the hot w

Robert Strathern of Fairfields Farm with his potato crop, which is under stress because of the hot weather Picture: ROBERT STRATHERN - Credit: Archant

Worried potato growers fear a shortage may be on the cards as the hot weather takes its toll on crops.

Robert Strathern, who farms at Wormingford, near Colchester, said preliminary investigations suggest his early crop of potatoes, which he may begin harvesting as early as next week (July 9 onwards), could be down by 25 to 30% on the average.

Like many farmers, he has faced a prolonged period of hot weather with no rain.

“Potatoes are the main crop we grow,” he said. “They are looking a bit unhappy about life at the moment. We have not had any rain and it has been very hot. They were planted late this year because of the cold and wet, horrible spring, then it’s flipped into hot, dry drought, so they have not established themselves as well.”

Robert, who grows moroe than 200 hectares (or 550 acres) of potatoes, now faces an anxious wait to see whether his main crop, which will be harvested in September, will recover.

Robert and wife Laura run a highly successful crisp-making diversification, Fairfields Farm crisps, and have an on-site factory where they are made, using local flavours and ingredients where possible. Production won’t be affected as there will be enough potatoes to supply it, but he admitted as farmers they were concerned.

“As a farming business, we grow potatoes for our own crisps production, but we also sell potatoes into the market place. It probably means we won’t have any potatoes to sell into the market place.”

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Although his potato crops are irrigated to ensure they get enough water, when they reach temperatures of more than 25C, they stop growing, he explained. With temperatures regularly climbing above that by the middle of the day, crops have been affected.

“By the time you get to 11 or 12 o’clock, it’s over 25C until mid to late afternoons so during that period they are under stress. We are irrigating the crop every day, but that heat is evaporating that moisture out.”

He fears that if the hot, dry spell continues, that could pose a problem for yields nationally.

“The potato crop in the UK will be a much smaller one. Yields will be hit and there will be a shortage of potatoes,” he said. “At this stage, every potato grower is looking at their crops and seeing stressed crops - the next month’s weather will really set it in stone.”