SUMMER SPUD REPORT 2020-2021
By Gemma Carroll, PNZ Comms & Engagement Officer.
It has been a mixed bag of weather across the country this Spring and Summer, with increased occurrences of extreme weather events.
NZ agronomists and growers in our main growing regions had the following to say about the 2020-2021 potato season.
In Pukekohe, the report in from agronomist Shane Smith indicates a most challenging season on so many fronts. “I’m not sure were to begin this year, but firstly I am thankful to be involved in Horticulture with a secure occupation during these difficult times, unlike so many other people in NZ and the world. Our industry provides one of the key elements in life for millions of people”.
The Pukekohe region saw a different year in growing terms with a very mild dry Winter in 2020 and then as we headed for Spring there was still limited rain with a very dry Sept/October. This was a cause for concern but in the end the dry spell with cool nights set up the early potato crops for record yields.
Rain came in November and lasted until early December. Overall, the weather has been great for growing potatoes however it is now starting to heat up with 30 deg C expected in mid-January.
There are more psyllid infected crops than usual this year which will need to be monitored closely. However, potato tuber moth damage so far is not too bad, possibly due to the cooler nights up until recently and regular rain. Alternaria (early blight) is starting to be a problem and it is not just here in NZ, with the UK also finding it an issue, where before it was hardly seen from one year to the next.
All in all, some pleasing results with potato crops in Pukekohe so far but still a few high-risk months to come.
In Manawatu, Mike Moleta, Opiki grower and PNZ board member says their region saw a late start to planting due to a wetter than usual September, which had followed a genuinely nice winter. Tubers were in the ground a couple of weeks later than normal and then endured a very wet November through until Christmas.
The wet Spring made it a challenge to get the usual crop work done. Despite this the growing has been good. Manawatu yields are not yet apparent, with no main crop harvested until March, April, and May.
The good news is no pests or disease have caused issues and even psyllid numbers are down a bit.
The Spring winds were not too bad at the end of 2020, but as mentioned the wet weather made December soil too wet to get onto the ground for spray programs, which meant approaching crops from the air instead.
In Canterbury, agronomist Duncan Mcleod and PNZ Technical Manager Dr. Iain Kirkwood say the 2020/21 season is generally progressing well. There has been reasonable soil moisture spread throughout the season so far, except for a dry period late November, early December, and significantly less wind than last season. General feeling is tuber set in most crops is high and tuber development is strong with the prospect of good yields is looking promising. Processors are reporting lower solids at this stage.
Growing day degrees this season are ahead of previous seasons, which has resulted in high Psyllid pressures throughout the region – particularly in North Canterbury. Adults are easily found now and some in season spread of Liberibacter can be observed. There has been several reports of Rhizoctonia in both commercial and seed crops this season.
Again, there have been no reports of Mop Top Virus in any of the commercial crops – however it is still showing sporadic occurrence in the processing lines at the factories. The survey of seed lines last season showed no increase in the occurrence of this disease in seed crops.
Although weather conditions over the Christmas/New Year have generally been conducive to the development of late blight there have been no reports of any outbreaks, however this period has resulted in increased levels of both Sclerotinia and Botrytis being reported. Early blight is now starting to make an appearance on older crops, and there have been some concerns over the change in speciation of Alternaria (Early blight) with the efficacy of certain chemicals coming under scrutiny. There have been few reports so far of powdery scab, but this is early days with the disease often appearing later in the season.
The latest United Fresh Food Trends Report has useful findings for our industry.
Here are the key takeaways, extracted from the full report.
Consumers want the Ultimate Health Kick.
Good news for spuds as we have just completed our 3-month campaign championing the nutritional benefits of potatoes. This has reached over 500,000 social media users.
Bulk buying is in, as Covid-19 has changed the way shoppers plan their trips to retailers.
Something potato growers may want to consider when sending to market – small boxes may be an easy quick meal, but can you also offer bulk options?
Online is ongoing.
30 percent of shoppers now buy food online, that’s three-fold what it was a year ago. Ordering a sack of potatoes direct from the farm enables shoppers to connect directly with the grower.
The resurgence of a ‘Buy NZ Made’ ethos has been one of the pandemic opportunities. Transparency of supply is a growing trend worldwide with as many as 60 percent of shoppers seeking greater knowledge about where their food is sourced from. Potatoes NZ’s partnering with Trust Alliance New Zealand and participating in blockchain technology means traceability will become as easy as consumers scanning a QR code. PNZ continue our promotion of #buylocal on all our social media platforms.
As is often the case in troubling times, shoppers are turning to small indulgences with their weekly shop. The qualitative data we gathered in our 2020 market research and the retail scan data earlier in 2020, during lockdown, backs this up and showed an increase in sales of crisps in NZ.
Home Sweet Home.
Kiwis are staying in, cooking from scratch, and ordering takeaways rather than dining out. Potatoes and processed potato meals are sure to be a staple in this department.
Alongside the drive for immunity, the health trend for 2021 is the focus on the gut microbiome. Again, potatoes are a hero here, with resistant starch in potatoes a source of nutrition for beneficial gut bacteria.
The Brand Connection.
Consumers in 2021 will be increasingly critical of the brands that they support. In the supermarket aisle, home brands are growing rapidly – as much as three times faster than other brands in some categories. This has meant the loss of identity for some of our growers, as supermarkets package growers’ produce under the retailer home brand.
Hunger Hurts Us All.
The United Nations has sounded the alarm that 2021 will be far worse for vulnerable whānau than 2020. Food insecurity is a growing problem for Kiwis, made worse by scarcity and supply chain issues due to COVID-19.
Despite our local growers producing some of the world’s best produce, getting much-needed quality fruit and vegetables to those struggling financially has been an issue. Potatoes NZ are keen to find ways to enable growers to support charitable pathways, as we work to feed every one of our team of 5 million. This will also support our zero emissions target by reducing waste. Let us know if you donate surplus to food banks or would like to find an easier way to do so.
Farmers know better than anyone that climate change action and environmental management has not gone away and the need to address issues of sustainability are primary.
Millennials and Gen Z are driving the move to sustainable practices with over 80 percent of all shoppers changing their purchase preferences based on the social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact shown by a brand.
Sustainable Vegetable Systems is a major project for our industry alongside our partners as we work towards an approach to food producing which embraces soil health, biodiversity, effective water use and enhancing the natural ecosystem.
We have added a Sustainability page to our website and welcome your input and feedback https://potatoesnz.co.nz/growing-certifying/growing-potatoes/sustainability/.
The full United Fresh report can be read here https://www.unitedfresh.co.nz/news-events/newsletters/united-fresh-news/trend-report-2021-adapting-to-the-new-normal
PNZ Field Walks 2021 are underway this month, with events in Pukekohe, Opiki and Canterbury. Topics include:
R&D: Sustainable Vegetable Systems project.
Biosecurity: Potato Tuber Moth, Tomato Red Spider Mite, Early Blight, Bacterial wilt& PMTV.
Industry Sustainability: Plan Changes, Collective Consents, Govt Regulation, PNZ Strategy, PNZ marketing initiatives & strategy and Dumping update.
Check the events page on our website for details https://potatoesnz.co.nz/news-info/events/