Extreme weather incidents are serving to rock Europe’s potato industry to its very foundations. Last year was actually the second warmest year on record in Europe.

The drought conditions resulted in a dramatic downturn in overall potato output.

Estimate figures suggest that the harvest across northern Europe, UK and Ireland was around two million tonnes less than normal.

That’s around one third of the total UK and Ireland potato production with packers and processers now striving to supply customers from a fast dwindling supply base.

The end result was a dramatic increase in prices, particularly within the potato processing sector.

Potato industry

Angus Wilson, chairman of Wilson’s Country Potatoes commented: “Earlier this year, large quantities of potatoes were exported out of Ireland and the UK to countries throughout Europe.

“And this trade has increased exponentially over recent months. I can’t fault Irish growers for getting involved.

“On the back of the input costs they were coping with last year and high storage costs due to increased energy prices, it made sense to get the possible prices they could get for potatoes in store.

“But the upshot of all this is the fact that Irish and UK potato stocks have never been at lower levels.”

Adding to all of this is the fact that extreme weather events have also impacted on the potato industry in 2023.

Early potato crops are looking well at the present time

“Recent floods in Italy and across most of southern Europe have not allowed potato growers in these regions to get on with their normal planting activities,” Angus Wilson explained.

“And it has been the same story here in Ireland. After an excellent February, the cold, wet spring severely delayed the planting of potatoes on many farms by up to six weeks.

“I know of many instances where main crop potatoes were not put into the ground until last week. This is far too late.”

It is normally accepted that Irish and UK potato crops will reach full ground cover by the summer solstice – June 21.

“In the vast majority of case, this target growth indicator will not be achieved in 2023. The end result will be a significant drop-off in yields come this year’s harvest,” Wilson confirmed.

Shortfall in potatoes

All of this adds up to a perfect storm for Europe’s potato industry.

“And Ireland is caught in the middle of all this,” the Wilson’s Country representative stressed.

“I can predict with almost complete confidence that a shortfall in Irish potato output in 2023 will be matched by similar experiences in other countries.

“And, of course, these issues will carry over into 2024. So we’re probably looking at least two consecutive years of challenging market conditions for the potato industry.”

According to the Wilson’s Country representative, it’s still too early to accurately gauge the level of potato plantings in Ireland this year.

“Given the very late spring and the continuing market uncertainty, some growers may decide to cut down on planting levels this year,” he said.

“We just don’t know. And, of course, all of this is simply adding to the challenges facing growers, where input costs are concerned.”

Rain is badly needed as tubers start to form in potato crops across the country

“Given the events that have unfolded over the past two years, the cost of potatoes has increased significantly over recent months and is continuing to increase, especially the specialist processing and chipping varieties,” WIlson added.

“This is coming at a time when demand for potatoes and potato products is starting to grow once again. This is a tremendously positive story for the potato sector. The down side is that the industry may not be able to meet this demand over the coming 12 months.

“And this is all due to the extreme weather conditions that have impacted across Europe over the past two growing seasons.”