Tasmanian Country Article - Tasmanian potato growers offered a carrot to keep planting the world’s ‘third-most-important food’

11 November 2022


Tasmanian potato growers offered a carrot to keep planting the world’s ‘third-most-important food’

An article featured in the Tasmanian Country Newspaper on Friday 11th November

Collaboration between local growers and processors has helped secure this season’s planting of the world’s third-most-important food crop — potatoes — with a commitment by Simplot to bring pricing stability to Tasmanian growers in a challenging season.

Thwarted by three consecutive years of La Niña, and the wettest October on record, Tasmanian potato growers are planting around the clock to get this year’s crop in the ground.

TFGA Simplot Potato Grower Committee Chair, Leigh Elphinstone, noted growers are battling planting delays, due to bad weather and wet ground, which would lead to a few tired eyes across the State this week. However collaboration between the TFGA Simplot Potato Grower Committee and Simplot Australia will bring local growers some much-needed relief.

“The TFGA Simplot Potato Grower Committee has worked with Simplot to deliver pricing options that will give minimum yield payments or a higher overall payment per tonne to encourage growers to continue planting into December,” Elphinstone said.

“There will also be a premium offered to growers who deliver more than the expected yield on contracted ground.”

Traditionally potato crops planted after 15 November in Tasmania are at risk of significant yield decline — with associated impacts on financial returns for growers. The decision this week by Simplot to recognise the seasonal challenges growers are facing, with adjusted pricing options, is welcomed.

A matter of importance

It can be easy to forget how important a mundane product, like the humble potato, is globally. QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations describes potatoes as: “the world’s third-most-important food crop (behind rice and wheat) … regularly consumed by billions of people”.

“Today, potatoes are cultivated on more than 20 million hectares across 150 countries for a total global output of 359 million tonnes in 2020,” he said.

“Potatoes will become one of the advantage crops in the global food security system when the yield of other cereal crops is close to the limit.”

According to the 2020 Food and Agriculture Data (FAOSTAT), the world’s biggest potato producers are: China, India, Russia, the United States and Germany. They account for 78.2 million metric tonnes, 51.3 mmt, 19.6 mmt, 18.8 mmt and 11.7 mmt respectively.

The 2020 International Trade Map, tells us France, Germany, China, Netherlands, Canada and the US are the major exporters of fresh potatoes worldwide.

Potato consumption is on the rise, even in traditionally non-potato-consuming countries. In the processed food industry, where processed products constitute the bulk of potato consumption, the demand for fresh potatoes has skyrocketed.

In Australia potatoes are by far the largest vegetable commodity grown by volume, with more than 1.3 million tonnes of potatoes grown for human consumption and processing in 2016–17. The next-largest crops were tomatoes (around 426,000 t), carrots (around 318,000 t), onions (around 277,000 t) and head lettuce (around 128,000 t).

In Australia, the biggest producing states for potatoes are Victoria and Tasmania. The Tasmanian Agri-Food ScoreCard 2019-20 (new one coming out soon – exciting) tells us locally potatoes contribute $137 million farm-gate value annually.

In a global context Tasmania’s contribution might seem small and growers battling to plant their crops arguably insignificant to some, but the ability for processors and growers to collaborate when times are tough will keep a globally important industry strong and viable in the State.

As I have hopefully demonstrated, potatoes are an important — globally important — contributor to food security for a growing world population. China, the US and some parts of Europe are facing reduced potato yields due to seasonally higher temperatures and reduced rainfall. Global unrest (think war in Ukraine) is impacting planting in Ukraine and Russia.

Tasmania is great at producing the unassuming hero — the humble spud. Yet the ability for local processors and growers to work together to reliably produce, under imperfect conditions, the third-most-important food in the world is a noteworthy superpower.

Ian Sauer
TFGA President