‘Perfect storm’ decimates crops

‘Perfect storm’ decimates crops

It is crunch time for consumers as frozen potato chips prove sparse as processed potato supply shortages start to bite.

Coles has enforced a temporary nationwide two item limit on the sought after Australian household staple while fish and chip shops struggle with supply.

The shortage is due to a range of factors coming together to produce ‘the perfect storm’ including a wet spring in Tasmania, a hailstorm that battered Ballarat during January, a lack of shipping containers and global crop scarcities.

Experts warn the shortage could last for up to six weeks.

Buckley Innovative Farming is a family business located at Mingbool, producing 22,000-24,000 tonnes of potatoes a year in various varieties for fries and crisps.

They are current suppliers to Smiths Chips, McCain Foods and UniGrain (an exporter of crisping potatoes to Asia).

Tasmania grows Russet Burbank potatoes (a variety of the produce that is popularly used to make frozen chips) which are supplied to Simplot who produce BirdsEye and McCain.

Buckley Innovative Farming partner/manager Terry Buckley said the biggest issue was the wet spring in Tasmania meaning farmers planted their crop late.

“Tasmania still grow Russet Burbank potatoes there, we do not really grow them here anymore,” he said.

“Russet Burbank takes 140 days to grow whereas all the others are pretty much 120 days and they also put a lot of yield on in the last few weeks, so you have to get your 140 days to have a success.

“Once you get a wet spring it gets really too late to plant them and I think a quite a lot of them were not planted because once you hit December you still have to be able to finish your spuds off by the end of April, and the weather is never good enough to do that.

“So ultimately they did not plant enough spuds in Tasmania because of the wet spring.”

Mr Buckley said there were other factors contributing to the lack of the staple.

“Everything around the world has sort of come together so there are no spare potatoes anywhere,” he said.

“A massive hailstorm went through the middle of Ballarat in January and its effect was more severe than they first thought it was.

“There are also issues with the shipping problems because stuff was not able to be shipped as easily as it should be from New Zealand to Australia because of a container shortage.

“I would hope it’s getting better, but it was absolutely stopped, there was no trade at one stage.

“We send them our wedges and they send us fries back, but they were not sending fries back so that was a problem and then the general worldwide hiccup in shipping was a problem.”

Mr Buckley said he believed there was “no quick fix”, estimating consumers would have to wait four to six weeks for the situation to remedy.

“I think it will be the middle of February before they get started again in Tasmania so it is going to be an ongoing thing for a little while before we can get fresh product,” he said.

“It’s going to be an ongoing problem in Australia because I think Tasmania is coming up short on potato planting again (this season).

“We have got to have a good autumn otherwise people are going to come up short again.”

Mr Buckley said despite working in the potato industry for 45 years he has never seen a shortage this severe before.

“Even the crisping industry has been just making it through as well like they have been having to ship potatoes from Atherton Tablelands to Adelaide with enormous freight costs and normally they would not be doing that so that’s also a problem,” he said.

“They seem like they’ll get through without running out of crisps, but it’ll be only just.

“Everything has come together this year as far as bad things and then we finished up short of product because usually you would just import some but there’s nowhere to import them from.”

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