Potato farmer warns of looming shortages after summer drought

The short of it

  • A potato farmer says the record-breaking heatwave and droughts this summer have affected crop size and yield.

  • John Bannister warned of a likely shortage of jacket potatoes in the new year and said people will need to start eating smaller potatoes.

  • Wholesalers have also warned of a 20% increase in prices of potatoes in the coming months as fuel and energy costs also go up.

The long of it

A potato farmer has warned that the recent heatwaves and drought could lead to shortages amid warnings that prices of the staple are set to increase.

John Bannister has been farming for 35 years, but says he's "not had a season like it" following record-breaking heat waves which saw temperatures in Britain surpass 40C.

South-west England became the latest area to be declared in a drought by the Environment Agency earlier this week.

It means 11 of the 14 Environment Agency areas of England are now in drought after the driest July in England for nearly 90 years.

Read more: England drought warnings: How low are water levels in your area?

John Bannister spoke with Good Morning Britain. (GMB)
John Bannister spoke with Good Morning Britain. (GMB)

Bannister told Good Morning Britain: "We've not had a season like it. The yield is down but it's the size that's the biggest problem for us because we do normally grow a lot of jacket potatoes and this year there's only about 20% of the crop so far are jackets. Usually we would expect it to be 70%.

He added: "The shortage of bakers [baked potatoes] is going to be a big problem this year.

Asked when this could start impacting availability for consumers, Bannister said: "You won't see any real impact until the new year. There’s going to be plenty of potatoes until Christmas, but in the new year there’s going to start being a shortage of certain quality and size of potato.

"People are going to need to start looking at eating smaller ones rather than a big jacket."

And he warned consumers will likely be faced with higher prices: "I think eventually the prices will go up in the shops. Our costs have gone up dramatically and with yields and size down, it's going to be very, very difficult."

He added that only a healthy amount of rain in the latter stages of the crop could improve the situation.

Costs are expected to go up from this month, meaning the British staple of fish and chips could be rising in price.

Wholesaler Q Catering told The Grocer magazine: “There is a lot of speculation at the moment. The chip guys have already put through significant increases in the last 12 months due to fuel and energy costs and this is the next opportunity for them to increase the price.

Read more: Europe’s worst drought in 500 years: Yahoo News Explains

Early potatoes being removed from the plant and laid on the ground to dry
Early potatoes being removed from the plant and laid on the ground to dry

“However, we won’t get a true picture until they have lifted the crop in September or October.

“From current prices we are probably looking at a 20% increase."

And Isle of Ely Produce have sounded similar warnings, saying the rocketing fuel and energy costs needed just to bring potatoes to the plate have increased by up to 60% since last year.

A spokesperson added: "Indications are that the heat has really wrecked crops and any rain now could hurt yields further.

“With expensive inputs and lack of yield it is inevitable that prices will go up but there has also been lower demand which may offset some of that."

The Met Office has warned that future summers in the UK could last longer with an increased risk of drought, new research has shown.

The study found that “summer-like” weather patterns will lead to warmer and drier autumns, as well as hotter and drier summers from the mid-2020s onwards.