BECOMING more efficient in terms of seed use and energy could add £700 per ha to potato growers' incomes.

That's according to Rob Clayton, AHDB Potatoes' strategy director, speaking at the recent Farming Scotland Conference, in Carnoustie. He detailed AHDB analysis which looked at some of the top 25% of producers and found that lower seed rates and energy efficiency could be worth approximately £37,000 to the average grower.

He said: “Farmers are not collecting this extra income for a number of reasons. Changes to seed and nitrogen rates and making simple investments to improve store performance can make a real difference to the bottom line.

"We need to work on supporting producers to changes their practices to improve productivity and increase their yields and margins. Our 'Strategic Potato Farm Programme' is a key part of those efforts.”

When AHDB last analysed the figures in 2015, average UK potato yields were 48.8 tonnes per ha, while Germany, France and Belgium were achieving yields of more than 50 tonnes per ha. Belgium was particularly strong, with 56.2 tonnes on average.

While this is partly down to environmental factors, such as soil quality and weather as well as variety mix, the figures demonstrated that there is room for UK farmers to better their figures.

Mr Clayton also called on the industry to embrace and incorporate the changing tastes of consumers in what they grow. The consumption of fresh potatoes has long been declining, partly due to a greater diversity of products, yet there are growing markets which the industry can and should exploit, he claimed.

“Many consumers are looking for convenience. They are looking for meal time solutions, rather than ingredients. Because of this, we see the chilled potato sector growing – chilled mash, or roast potatoes for example – and we need to make sure we are tapping into this.

“Premium potato products are also important, especially as we see a global surge in the middle classes. Therefore, not only do we need to produce more such products, but we need to build relationships with those growing global markets which are looking out for these premium goods,” he told the conference.