Industry experts claim that UK potato growers are massively underestimating the economic significance of their sector. This could be as high as £4.5 billion, rather than the commonly-used estimate of £765 million.
At the SAC Association of Potato Producers (SACAP) conference in Dundee, SRUC senior agricultural economist Steven Thomson told his audience that underselling the industry afforded it less political imperative.
Thomson: “Farmers need to understand the importance of the whole chain rather than just the farm side otherwise there is no political pressure to intervene and support the sector to produce disease-resistant varieties or change practices.
"By contrast, the Scottish beef sector output is worth £950 million but they tell the Scottish Government they’re worth £3 billion because they’re looking at the whole sector, and that just doesn’t happen with potatoes.”
According to Thomson, the economic impact of potatoes goes far beyond the farm. He said £1 of potato production equated to £3.77 downstream and added that across the UK, households and the hospitality sector – including fish and chip shops – spent around £4bn on potatoes, around 70% (equating to roughly £3 billion) of which are home grown.
“My premise is that the £3bn downstream and another £1.5-£2bn upstream means we’re talking about an impact of between £4-£5bn of the true economic worth of the potato sector in the UK," he explained.
“Agriculture is a commodity producer and unless we take cognisance of our value to the whole food and drink sector then we undersell our contribution to that story.”