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Bumper English crop means chips are down for our potato growers


tải xuống (9) POTATO growers in Pembrokeshire are facing up to their lowest returns for years after the fine spring meant a bumper early crop from eastern England hitting the marketplace just as the season peaks for Welsh farmers.

One of the major buyers described the situation as “a low-price season” all round, with matters made worse by reduced consumer demand.

The expected poor returns add to the problems of a struggling industry which has recently seen more and more farmers leaving. But farmers say they are fighting back and are optimistic about the future.

“We have cleared a lot of Pembrokeshire potatoes as we do every year and we try our best to find a market for them,” said Trevor Pullan, procurement manager with the Yorkshire-based wholesale company E Park and Son.

“But we can only offer so much when its costs £40 a tonne to bring them up to us, and although we can absorb that in a high price year it’s been very difficult this year.

“Add in the fact that the market is decreasing and the reality is that we can’t afford to pay much for this year’s crop.”

Imports from Jersey also contributed to the oversupply of early potatoes on a market described by Pembrokeshire potato grower Walter Simon as “challenging”.

Mr Simon, who grows 130 acres of potatoes at Orielton and is the Welsh delegate on the NFU’s horticulture and potato board, said: “A very warm spring brought in early crops countrywide and there was a glut of potatoes on the market from eastern England just as our early season was peaking.

“And the dry spring has affected the main crop even more than the ‘earlies’ and there may perhaps be varieties that just do not sell at all.”

First early potatoes arrived in the shops 10 days earlier than usual this year and the trend has continued throughout the season. “This means that across the UK potato prices have come under some pressure and are down on this time last year,” said Mr Simon.

But a fightback is already under way, with the farmer-owned company Puffin Produce enabling farmers to benefit from minimal haulage costs by selling Welsh potatoes in Wales.

Pembrokeshire’s mild climate has always ensured that its new potatoes arrive in British shops earlier in the year than those from other parts of the UK, with competition mainly coming from the Channel Islands.

Puffin Produce wants to add cachet to the brand with the kind of protected status afforded to products such as champagne, Parmesan cheese, Welsh lamb and its main rival, Jersey Royals.

But the company is also working to secure an all-round supply – encouraging growers to produce main crop as well as earlies.

Managing director Huw Thomas said the company now processes around 70% – around 27,000 tonnes – of the potatoes grown in Wales, and with significant investment and modernisation of its facilities and the expansion of its cold storage capacity, it plans to meet a year-round demand and diversify into other vegetables.

Earlier this year the Welsh Government agreed a £4.1m grant to back an expansion and modernisation programme costing more than £8m.

“We have an ambitious expansion plan and we are asking the growers for more,” said Mr Thomas. “We are relatively isolated, and as diesel prices increase we are becoming more isolated, but the crop is grown within a 10 to 15-mile radius and we supply into Welsh stores in multiples like Asda, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.

“There’s been a gradual increase in the acreage over the last few years, driven by Welsh consumers. We’re very lucky that there’s a very strong focus on regional buying in Wales that provides strong sales that the supermarkets can see and the whole chain then benefits.

“Consumers get what they want, the supermarkets get strong sales and that feeds into the prices we are able to offer the grower.”

Mr Simon said Puffin Produce’s strategy could secure the future of the Pembrokeshire potato. “The writing has been on the wall for years and until about five years ago the story was the same every year with more and more farmers leaving the industry,” he said.

“And now that our climatic advantage has been massively taken away from us we’re very grateful that Puffin have established a year-round business and are demanding more potatoes from Pembrokeshire.

“I believe there’s now a real business opportunity for people who have not grown potatoes before as well as those who gave up in recent years.”

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/countryside-farming-news/farming-news/2011/08/18/bumper-english-crop-means-chips-are-down-for-our-potato-growers-91466-29256531/?#ixzz1VRk61Cpn

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