Wet weather and rising fertiliser prices are forcing farmers to rethink their potato plantings, with tonnages expected to be down significantly in the upcoming season. 

Key points:

  • Around 80 per cent of the area should be planted, but only 20 per cent has been planted so far due to wet conditions
  • Skyrocketing fertiliser prices are adding to potato growers’ pain
  • Grower representatives want the major processors to offer more money to cover the cost of production

Months of wet weather has made the ground in the northern part of the state too muddy for tractors and other machinery to get onto paddocks.  

The wet ground also increases the risk of crop disease. 

There has also been extra pressure this year because fertiliser prices have skyrocketed.

Former McCain grower representative and seed potato grower Beau Gooch said it was becoming significantly more expensive to grow potatoes.

“Fertiliser costs have put a double-figure [increase] into the cost of growing spuds,” he said.  

“If we were going into a dry planting, it probably wouldn’t have been an issue. But your risk growing this crop is significantly higher than when the contract you signed was negotiated.”

A man in a high visibility jumper stands by a plowed field of red earth.

Leigh Elphinstone expects potato yields to be down this year, given the conditions.(Supplied: Leigh Elphinstone)

Leigh Elphinstone, Simplot Growers Committee chair and north-west potato grower, said the weather and fertiliser hurdles could result in a potato shortage.

“I would expect at this stage that yields will be down, some crops have gone into ground that’s less than ideal,” he said.

“Some growers, I’m led to believe, are pulling out of paddocks that are laying too wet.

“It’s just going to be too late to get the crop in.”

A tractor and plough in a potato field

Like most heavy machinery, potato planters can cause serious damage to fields that are too wet.(ABC News: Alex Blucher)

State agronomy manager for Nutrien, Stuart Millwood said the season was significantly behind schedule.

“It’s certainly been the wettest winter/spring that we’ve seen for a number of years,” he said.

“If we don’t get our crops in in good conditions then it certainly reduces the yield … we always welcome timely rains but at the moment it’s been pretty constant.” 

Potato crops in heavy rain in North Scottsdale

Eighty per cent of Tasmania’s potato crop should be planted by now, but it’s currently closer to 20 per cent.(ABC News)

Higher risk, less reward

Rising fertiliser costs were taken into account in August’s contract negotiations between farmers and the major processors, Simplot and McCain, but since then the price of fertiliser had risen again.

Mr Gooch said the companies needed to offer growers better prices to make up for the significant risk farmers were taking this season.  

“We couldn’t get them to recognise the potential for increasing fertiliser costs while we were negotiating [the contracts],” he said.

“The farmer committee has been back to McCain, and the company has offered an increase in the prepayment and a drop in the interest on pre-payments.

Bags of fertiliser

The price of fertiliser has nearly doubled in the past 12 months, with no end to the price hikes in sight.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

“But really that’s not helping our bottom line, our return on investment.

Leigh Elphinstone said Simplot growers were facing a similar situation.

“We were able to negotiate a fertiliser clause with Simplot of $4.50 to cover that rise to that point, but since then it’s gone up another 40 per cent,” he said.

“We haven’t met with them again, but I think we probably will in the near future, to discuss where growers are at this present time.”

Black-and-white McCain Foods sign

Growers want processors to offer higher prices to compensate for increased fertiliser costs.(ABC: Stateline Tasmania)

In a statement, McCain said it understood the situation was difficult and was talking to growers.

“Whilst the weather between now and harvest is always difficult to predict, there is still potential for good 2022 crop results from the potato varieties being grown for McCain.”

“McCain continues to maintain a dialogue with our grower base and have been working with growers to help manage cost pressures, which are currently being driven by global energy costs and supply restrictions.”

Simplot was contacted for comment.

Posted , updated 

Cheap as chips? Think again as wet weather, rising fertiliser prices put squeeze on Tassie spud growers
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