POTATOES HOT PROPERTY AS PRODUCTION VALUE SURPASSES $1 BILLION

Australia first became aware of a potential hot chip shortage back in November 2022, when a combination of mounting production costs, international events and weather events led to the predicted shortage in January 2023.

Potato farming is spread across the country, which usually mitigates losses due to weather.

However, Stephanie Jacobs, senior climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said that climate in the main growing areas in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria was becoming transitional, and warned of an increase in extreme weather events, including higher temperatures, fire and rain.

“Research has shown heatwaves may become more widespread … putting a strain on resources,” Dr Jacobs commented.

All potato varieties are susceptible to extreme weather as they require gradual rain and moderately warm temperatures.

Terry Buckley, a major potato grower based in South Australia, pointed out that another shortage was only a few bad weather events away.

While production may be precarious, this year saw a surprising turn of events as Australia’s potato industry passed the $1 billion point in production value.

Production had remained the same as past years, but the value increased by an incredible 24 per cent, according to the latest Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook.

Nigel Crump, acting chair of Potatoes Australia said the sector had received a lot of investment that was now paying off.

“It’s really exciting that our industry has grown considerably and it’s largely driven through the investment the industry has been making in the last few years in automation and innovation.”

Crump says processing companies like McCain and PepsiCo have invested heavily in infrastructure for the industry, including creating more sustainable farming methods and more resource-efficient operations. McCain is the largest buyer of potatoes for processing in the country. It proudly reports assisting farmers for over 50 years, supporting more than 120 Australian growers and their communities.

Western Australian potato grower Michael Smith said he had noticed an increasing demand.

“Since the chip shortage 12 to 18 months ago, we’ve definitely seen a better bottom line … the demand has been unbelievable and it hasn’t stopped this year.”

Yet other growers, such as Darryl Smith (no relation to Michael Smith), argued that while production value may have increased, it was not matching the costs.

“The value of Australia’s [potato] production has increased 24 per cent, but my costs have increased by 40 per cent just to plant a potato crop,” he says.

Increasing production to focus on export could also be an option for the industry, although the cost of production is very high. Still, in the last financial year Australia exported over 40,000 tonnes of potatoes, with 50 per cent of these headed to South Korea.

The 12th World Potato Congress will be held in Adelaide 23-26 June 2024, where focus will be on “addressing global changes in sustainability, climate, culture and population dynamics”.

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