Big wet’s threat to potatoes


FEARS of a major potato shortage are growing as farmers across the state struggle to get crops in the ground as record wet conditions continue.

Shortages of both fresh and processing potatoes now look likely as growers battle with saturated paddocks and waterlogged crops. With the huge costs and rising inputs associated with growing potatoes any major crop losses or yield reductions could have a serious financial impact on growers. Simplot processing potato committee chairman Leigh Elphinstone described the situation as serious.

He said many growers who would have finished planting crops by now have not even been able to get on to their paddocks. “I’d normally think they’d be 60-70 per cent finished planting by now, but down our way they’re only about 25 per cent of the way through,” he said. “People are getting nervous because there’s a lot that would like to see their crops in by early November at the latest, but there’s no way they’ll get them in by then.”

Mr Elphinstone said planting late risked lower-than-optimum yields and a late harvest could see growers struggling to get crops out of the ground before winter. “You won’t have enough heat units to grow the crop to its optimum so you’re starting to take off yield potential and there could also be some quality issues as well,” he said.

“I’ve had heaps of growers calling me in the last week or 10 days and they’re worried about trying to get their crops in but also whether they’ll be able to make a return out of it.” After a poor season last year and low returns, Mr Elphinstone said another disastrous season may see some growers chose not to continue growing the crop.

He also said some crops which had already been planted may be damaged by the record rains. Simplot was hoping to contract 330,000 tonnes of potatoes this season as supplies of potato chips across the country run low, however Mr Elphinstone said it was now unlikely the company would be able to secure anywhere near that amount. Supplies of fresh market potatoes are also under pressure.

Local grower Terrance Rattray said supplies of his Yum Tasmanian potatoes would be restricted to just Tasmania over the next four months as they deal with the seasonal difficulties. While they now grow most of their crops on well-drained red soils, Mr Rattray said wet conditions at planting had caused delays and now harvesting was also an issue due to saturated soils. He said last week they had just finished digging potatoes that should have been harvested in August. Southern growers the Daly family are reporting losses of 2000 tonnes of fresh potatoes.

Business Manager Ruby Daly says it’s the first time since she joined the family business seven years ago that she has seen the farm temporarily close as a result of supply issues due to weather.

“This means customers won’t be able to source our potatoes through the major supermarkets or independent retailers we usually supply,” she said.