A reluctance by so-called cooks to peel a spud is causing a crisis for West Country potato farmers, the first day of the Royal Bath and West Show heard yesterday.
National Farmers' Union Somerset County chairman Nick Bragg is poised to lose more than £70 on each of the 8,000 tonnes of potatoes he is growing in the county because the price has crashed.
NFU spokesman for the South West Ian Johnson said the potatoes might end up helping to fuel an anaerobic digester plant because it would not be worth the cost of cleaning and bagging them.
Mr Bragg, one of a dwindling band of commercial potato farmers in the South West believes the rise of ready meals is making it uneconomic to grow potatoes to be sold as a fresh vegetable. His concerns were backed up last week at the Devon County Show by Tesco's director of agriculture Tom Hind who admitted sales of fresh potatoes had fallen in their stores – along with sales of red meat, particularly beef.
One solution for Mr Bragg would be to change the type of potato he grows, to supply ready-to-cook chip manufacturers, like McCains. He has already reduced the acreage he plants, on his farm near Ilminster, by around 25 per cent.
Mr Johnson said: "Despite more cookery shows than soaps on the telly spawning a constellation of 'celebrity chefs' and a tsunami of recipe books sweeping through bookstores people are spending half the time preparing meals than they did 30 years ago."