A £25m investment by McCain in the British potato industry has been welcomed by growers determined to ride out two challenging seasons.
The McCain Potato Farmer Pledge aims to help growers manage the impact of increasingly uncertain weather on their businesses by strengthening the relationship between the processor and its suppliers.
McCain regional president Howard Snape said: “British potato farmers have been hit immensely hard in recent years. Having faced a major drought and the wettest harvest on record, they’ve experienced two of the worst crops in 40 years.
“Added to that, without us honouring our contracts with growers and finding alternative outlets, they would have been left with a huge surplus of wasted potatoes due to Covid-19 shutting down the hospitality industry.”
The McCain scheme is the latest in a number of initiatives to make the food supply chain more resilient. Devised in partnership with growers, the £25m package is split into three elements:
- Multi-year Incentives – A 3-5-year loyalty scheme rewarding farmers who continue to grow. It will help support the farming, hospitality and retail industries through a more stable and sustainable supply of potatoes.
- Grant Funding – A fund to which growers can apply for grants to invest in harvesting capacity and improved sustainable potato growing through irrigation infrastructure and innovative new technology such as self-propelled harvesters.
- Sustainable Contracts – As well as honouring contracts during Covid-19, McCain says it will improve prices on early season varieties so farmers receive a fair return. It will also reduce delays by building greater flexibility into the farm-to-production system.
This is in addition to an indexation model which measures changes in the costs of production to ensure fair and sustainable contract pricing for growers – a method pioneered by McCain in 2007.
Some 40% of the £25m will be invested this year to help farmers who have been left with a backlog of unusable potatoes. The funding is being delivered through grower contracts with McCain, grant funding and multi-year incentive offers.
Alongside the pledge, McCain says it is also helping farmers navigate the impacts of the Coivid-19 pandemic which has led to an oversupply of potatoes caused by the closure of bars and restaurants.
Farmers saw an average 18% reduction in potato yields in 2018, with 16% of the 2019 storage crop left in field. McCain has reallocated potato varieties normally earmarked for foodservice to retail product lines, donating surplus stock to food banks.
Potato grower Nigel Adams said flexibility in funding from McCain had been immensely helpful. “For us to operate, we need the market and the weather to be favourable – and during the past few years both aspects have been hit.”
Mr Adams said he couldn’t have produced with the weather in recent years without the investment. “It’s going to help our farm and production year-after-year, meaning we can build a more sustainable future.”