Chips manufacturer McCain is investing £25 million in the British potato industry to help it cope with Covid-19 and climate change.
The investment by the company, the UK’s biggest manufacturer of frozen potato products, aims to help British farmers manage the increasingly erratic weather caused by climate change, as well as the pandemic.
A total of 40% of the investment will come this year to help with the fallout from weather extremes and Covid-19, which shut down the hospitality sector, leaving a backlog of potatoes which could not be used.
Alongside the pledge of money, McCain said it had been working with farmers left with potatoes that could not be used because bars and restaurants had closed.
As part of work to honour all grower contracts, the company said it had been minimising waste by reallocating potato varieties from food service to retail product lines, donating surplus stock to foodbanks via FareShare and, where possible, storing potato stock for use next season.
The £25m investment will be split between three areas, including a three to five-year loyalty scheme rewarding farmers who continue to grow, supporting farming, hospitality and retail with a more stable and sustainable supply of potatoes.
Farmers will also be able to apply for grower grant funding for improvements such as self-propelled harvesters and irrigation infrastructure, and there will be investment in sustainable contracts.
Howard Snape, regional president at McCain GB and Ireland, said: “British potato farmers have been hit immensely hard in recent years.
“Having faced a major drought and one of the wettest harvests on record, they’ve experienced two of the worst crops in 40 years.
“Added to that, without us honouring our contracts with growers and finding alternative outlets, they would have been left with a huge surplus of wasted potatoes due to Covid-19 shutting down the hospitality industry.
“Today’s investment will not only help the potato industry but will also strengthen McCain’s partnerships with farmers and support the wider supply chain, including our customers and suppliers.”
National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said: “Following two seasons of extreme weather impact followed by Covid-19 market disruption, growers need all the support they can get to have the confidence to grow into the future.
“We’re therefore pleased to see McCain taking a leadership position and providing this much-needed investment opportunity and making a commitment to support their growers, and we look forward to working with McCain to help ensure that British potato production has a strong and sustainable future.”