Chips maker pledges £25m to help potato growers deal with Covid-19 and climate change

PUBLISHED: 18:40 12 August 2020 | UPDATED: 18:40 12 August 2020

Norfolk potato farmer Tim Papworth has welcomed McCain's £25m investment in its supply chain to help potato growers cope with the impacts of Covid-19 and climate change . Picture: Adam Fradgley

Norfolk potato farmer Tim Papworth has welcomed McCain's £25m investment in its supply chain to help potato growers cope with the impacts of Covid-19 and climate change . Picture: Adam Fradgley

Adam Fradgley

Norfolk potato farmers have welcomed a £25m investment from chips manufacturer McCain to help its suppliers cope with the impacts of Covid-19 and climate change.

The investment by the UK’s biggest manufacturer of frozen potato products aims to help its growers buy new machinery and upgrade their storage facilities to manage the increasingly erratic weather caused by global warming, as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 40pc of the investment will come this year to help with the fallout from weather extremes and Covid-19, which caused a huge backlog of unused potatoes after restaurants, chip shops and other food service businesses were closed during lockdown.

As part of its work to honour all grower contracts, the company said it had been minimising waste by reallocating potato varieties from food service to retail product lines, donating surplus stock to food banks via FareShare and, where possible, storing potato stock for use next season.

The £25m investment will be split between three areas, including a three to five-year loyalty scheme rewarding farmers who continue to grow, supporting farming, hospitality and retail with a more stable and sustainable supply of potatoes. Farmers will also be able to apply for grower grant funding for improvements such as self-propelled harvesters and irrigation infrastructure.

Tim Papworth, a director of LF Papworth in Felmingham near North Walsham, represents the sector as a member of the National Farmers’ Union’s Horticulture and Potatoes Board, as well as the NFU Potato Forum.

He said: “Having had a really bad year last year with floods and a lot of potatoes left in the ground, followed by the knock-on effects of Covid this year which left a lot of people with potatoes in store not being able to find a home for them, there has been a lot of angst and difficulty among potato growers. So I would say that McCain investing in the grower base is a good thing.

“What I like is the fact they are helping growers invest in big heavy machinery that is very expensive, and I expect they will help growers invest in new or upgraded storage which, with the loss of sprout suppressant chemicals, is going to become more difficult thing to manage.

“There is a concern with global warming and climate change that potatoes are going to become more difficult to plant and harvest in good order, so anything we can do help growers invest in new techniques to combat that will be beneficial for the whole sector.”

READ MORE: Farm boss grateful for ‘silver linings’ after weather hits harvest yields

Howard Snape, regional president at McCain GB and Ireland, said: “British potato farmers have been hit immensely hard in recent years.

“Having faced a major drought and one of the wettest harvests 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.

“Today’s investment will not only help the potato industry but will also strengthen McCain’s partnerships with farmers and support the wider supply chain, including our customers and suppliers.”

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