Potato growers face the greatest uncertainty in years as input costs have rocketed but markets remain stagnant – so growing the crop this year will be a major 'gamble.
A surplus of potatoes in the last few years had kept the market stagnant, leaving farmers selling at anything from £60/t to £220/t for ware, depending on grade. In contrast to flat prices, costs are rocketing with fertiliser, fuel and rent all on the up.
This is leaving many farmers wondering if planting this spring is a gamble they can afford to take. Aberdeenshire seed potato grower, Graham Twatt, Easter Cushnie, summed it up: “This is the most challenging time in farming we have ever seen. "The contracts for growing potatoes came out in January but costs have jumped 20% since. The forms are sitting on the table and need to be signed before we plant, but many farmers will be going back buyers to factor in the rise in costs.
"Fuel and fertiliser we know are going up, but rents are bound to rise too with strong cereal prices. We are selling most tonnes in the low £300s but if we are to continue, the price needs to be closer to £400/t.” Industry experts have told The Scottish Farmer that one in 10 planned acres of seed and ware potatoes could go unplanted in 2022. Poor confidence in market prices is damaging growers’ confidence leading to cuts in area and production.
Commitment to strong prices from buyers is needed if farmers are going to get more potatoes in the ground, they told us.
After Brexit locked farmers out of their historic EU market for seed, the sector had been scrambling to find new buyers across the globe. At the end of last year, Scottish growers had earmarked Russia as a destination for potatoes which had been locked out of the EU.
While the price of potatoes had jumped by 2.3 times between the end of 2020 and 2021, with the western sanctions punishing Russia after their invasion of Ukraine, the market slammed shut overnight. This has left thousands of tonnes of seed potatoes stranded in Scotland. The Egyptian buyers also closed their market two weeks early in December, with the last shipment allowed to leave the UK the middle of the month as opposed to the end. This reduced the supply of seed potatoes to the north African country by up to 10,000 tonnes.
Fears are growing that, as Egypt is a significant supplier of potatoes to Russia, that Egyptian potatoes could be stopped either through sanctions, or an inability of Russians to pay for shipments. This, in turn, could cut Egypt’s ability to pay for Scottish seed potatoes.
All of this is motivating farmers to seek out new markets to increase their resilience. China was heralded as an untapped market for Scottish potato exports, but the regulatory burden proved too much to make it viable. Other destinations, such as Brazil, are in development, which could see Scottish potatoes arriving there in the coming years.