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    Poor potato harvest raises fear of low supply

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    Potato’s supply is feared to dwindle as recent reports state that UK farmers are struggling with one of the lowest potato harvests on record after an autumn of heavy rain.

    Experts are warning that supermarkets could be forced to turn to imports from as far afield as Egypt to fill potential gaps on shelves, pushing up the environmental impact of the festive meal.

    According to The Guardian, potato planting had reduced significantly and the sector was “looking at the lowest UK crop on record this season”, with an estimate that about “4.1m tonnes of potatoes would be harvested, 2m less than five or six years ago”.

    Apart from seasonal factors, some potato farmers are also “dropping out of the sector due to cost pressures”.

    “One producer said that in the last six years, there have been extreme weather events that have affected potato production,” The Guardian quoted Fred Searle, the magazine editor of the Fresh Produce Journal, as saying. “If you cannot deliver a crop, then you cannot get the full returns on it.”

    Searle said climate change was an important issue affecting domestic vegetable production and leading to more imported goods and this year, domestic potato crop could lead to “some gaps on shelves and generally tighter supply because of wet weather … I cannot say there will be no potatoes but there might be more imports to make up for the shortfall.”

    It is rare for the UK to import potatoes, but if shortages drive up prices then suppliers are likely to look to Israel and Egypt for produce.

    Crops of broccoli and cauliflower, which feature on many Christmas dinner tables, have also been hit by the poor weather.

    “When the weather is wet it is not possible to harvest potatoes, or brassicas such as cauliflower and broccoli,” Searle said. “Some of the main broccoli producers in the UK have said there will be a shortage at Christmas.”

    Meanwhile, new Defra secretary Steve Barclay has used his first major speech to set out his commitment to backing British farmers and being on the side of rural businesses.

    In his keynote speech at the Country Land and Business Association conference in London on Thursday (30), Barclay set out his vision for an innovative and productive agriculture sector, supporting the sector to continue to develop into a more sustainable and profitable industry.

    Almost £45 million in competitions and grants are set to open in the coming weeks as part of the government’s £168 million investment this year to support farmers to foster innovation, boost productivity and improve animal welfare, Barclay confirmed.

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