The UK Potato Market – A Farmer’s View – November 2019

The UK Potato Market – A Farmer’s View – November 2019

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch…

The potato harvest of 2019 is turning out to be a great example of this old proverb.

Earlier this year, the potatoes had been planted in good time and, as we say here, had “gone in well”.  However, having been pleased with a good summer growing season, thoughts of a plentiful or bountiful harvest have been well and truly scuppered and we are, once again, praying to the weather gods.

Unlike last year, when we prayed for rain during the 2018 summer drought, now, we just wish it would stop raining!  As I write, the rain is beating down, again and lifting will have once again ground to a halt.

Even here on our farm on the Yorkshire Wolds, water is now standing on the fields, despite the fact that it is generally land which drains quickly and well, having a good solid chalk base.

There are varying reports nationally about how much of the crop is yet to be lifted.  These vary from about 10% to 20%.  The crops that have been lifted don’t seem to have quite the baker content that we had hoped, and they have been of variable quality.

However, the crops that have been harvested in all of this rain during the last few weeks are showing signs of greening and, in particular, soft rots causing crop breakdown. What we do not yet know is the full extent in both Yorkshire and Lincolnshire of the difficulties with this latter part of harvest.

Normally, the entire crop would have been harvested by the end of October and certainly before the first frosts.  We are hoping very much that it doesn’t get much colder…

To put this in context for the rest of farming:  it is not just the potato harvest which has been affected by all of this rain.  The winter drilling and other cultivating of the land which happens at this time of year has, of course, been impacted hugely.

Many fields of winter crops (for example, winter wheat) will not now be drilled during the correct “window” which will mean that more spring crops will be grown. This in turn has put pressure on availability of seed for spring crops and we have heard that usual stores of these have now sold out.

On a positive note for wildlife, the hawthorn hedges are absolutely laden with berries which are great for the wild bird life here on the Wolds.  We are, as usual, leaving these hedges and not cutting them until the spring.  They are a valuable food source for birds and wildlife during the harsh winter months.  However, it is a local saying that this many berries on the hedges can also be a sign of a cold winter.

So, we will continue praying for some dry and mild weather, ideally with a gentle wind, while getting out our winter woollies.  We might be in for a long cold winter this year.

Rob Bannister