Potato manufacturer McCain has launched a £25 million investment into the British potato industry in order to support farmers that have been affected by Covid-19.

The McCain Potato Farmer Pledge allows farmers to apply for grants to invest in harvesting capacity and improved sustainable potato growing through irrigation infrastructure and innovative new technology such as self-propelled harvesters.

The fund will work as a three to five year loyalty scheme which rewards farmers that continue to grow. It will also aim to help support the farming, hospitality and retail industries through a more stable and sustainable supply of potatoes.

Alongside honouring contracts during Covid-19, McCain is optimising its contracts, which will aim to improve prices on early-season varieties. McCain hopes this will see farmers get fair prices and greater flexibility into the farm-to-production system to reduce delays.

Howard Snape, regional president at McCain GB & Ireland, said: “British potato farmers have been hit immensely hard in recent years. Having faced a major drought and the wettest harvest 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.

“This 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. However, we can’t do this alone – to overcome the challenges facing growers, everyone needs to take the initiative to work collaboratively. It’s why within our sector we’re committed to working with farmers, customers, industry leadership groups and Government to create a sustainable future for years to come.”

“The last two years have seen two of the worst potato crops in the last 40 years and this paired with the impact of Covid-19 has left our growers with a number of challenges including bad crops and surplus potatoes.”

McCain has also decided to allocate 40% of the investment this year, as a result of the pandemic closing the foodservice and hospitality sectors and the severe weather leaving a backlog of potatoes that cannot be used. This immediate funding will be delivered through grower contracts with McCain, grant funding and multi-year incentive offers.

The company has also worked to minimise wastage by reallocating potato varieties normally earmarked for foodservice to retail product lines, donating surplus stock to food banks via its partnership with FareShare and, where possible, storing potato stock for use next season.

Daniel Metheringham, director of agriculture at McCain GB & Ireland, said: “We’re the experts in potato agriculture – from our seed business in Scotland to our team of expert agronomists, we work closely with our 250 growers every step of the way and are committed to supporting them through these challenging times.

“The last two years have seen two of the worst potato crops in the last 40 years and this paired with the impact of Covid-19 has left our growers with a number of challenges including bad crops and surplus potatoes. McCain growers saw an average 18% reduction in yield in 2018 and 16% of our 2019 storage crop was still left in field. This Pledge is about doing all we can to help our growers and we can’t thank them enough for all their work.”

National Farmers’ Union president, Minette Batters, added: “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.”