UK Food Security and the important role of Potatoes

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13 December 2023
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CEO of GB Potatoes, Scott Walker, discusses the pivotal role that Government policies play in shaping the viability of potato farming.

IN recent weeks, I've engaged with the Food Security Unit of the Scottish Government and contributed insights to the UK Government team responsible for drafting the upcoming 2024 UK Food Security report, scheduled for release before the year's end. You might wonder why! 

The answer lies in recognising the pivotal role that Government policies play in shaping the viability of potato farming in the UK. Whether that be policies related to land use, regulations on water usage, commitments to net-zero targets, or initiatives focused on plant health, various government actions are intricately woven into the fabric of our industry.

While potatoes are just one element within a complex and interconnected food system, GB Potatoes engagement with the UK Government and the devolved administrations presents an opportunity to underscore the significance of potatoes in the broader food security framework of the UK.

The diversity of food supply, encompassing staples like potatoes, is crucial for ensuring a resilient and sustainable food system capable of navigating diverse challenges and adjusting to shifts in the environment or market conditions.

Recent years have brought to the forefront the vulnerability of food supply chains in the UK. Factors such as Brexit, the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and geopolitical events like the war in Ukraine have collectively impacted food production and the intricate supply chains that guide products from farms to processors, culminating in their journey to consumers through retailers or the hospitality sector.

The unpredictable nature of weather conditions adds another layer of complexity, with potato producers acutely aware of the substantial impact weather can exert on production.  At the back end of last year, it was the prolonged period of wet weather. The year before that, the standout memory for many growers was the unrelenting drought and consequent demand on irrigation.

These varied climatic challenges underscore the dynamic nature of the agricultural landscape and the resilience required within the sector to navigate and mitigate the impacts of such diverse weather patterns.

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The UK Government Food Security Report plays a crucial role in shaping policies to foster resilience within the food supply chain. It serves as a platform that we can use to draw attention to issues of importance, such as understanding how the specification demands set by retailers and processors can significantly influence whether the potato crop will sustain us until the subsequent harvest. 

Considering that over half of the potato crop is cultivated on leased land, it can also help show how government policies can substantially impact landlords' willingness to rent land for potato production.

Engaging with the Food Security Units within government provides us with an opportunity to raise these concerns and other pertinent issues that exert considerable impact on potato production.

The next time you're asked about the significance of potatoes in the context of food security in the United Kingdom, the resounding answer is a definitive "yes." 

Potatoes hold a crucial role as a dietary staple, providing a substantial source of essential nutrients, including carbohydrates and fibre. Their cost-effectiveness and energy density make them a cornerstone in meals. Beyond their nutritional value, the versatility of potatoes as an ingredient is noteworthy. 

Whether served as fresh produce, transformed into frozen products, crafted into chips, or fashioned into snacks, their adaptability allows the industry to meet evolving consumer preferences and diverse culinary demands. As a result, potatoes emerge not only as a dietary mainstay but also as a linchpin in fostering a resilient and sustainable food system in the United Kingdom.

Being the voice of the British potato industry is what GB Potatoes is all about, so if you haven’t joined us already, now is the time. The more members we have, the louder our voice becomes. You can join here.

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