£25million package of support for potato farmers announced by McCain

Potato giant McCain has announced a £25m funding package to help support its farmers after two “challenging” years.

McCain's has announced a 25million package for potato farmers

The company, which has its head office in Scarborough, said collaboration is “critical” to protect the future of potato growing.

“McCain can’t do it alone,” said GB&Ireland president,Howard Snape.

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The McCain Potato Farmer Pledge will see the multi-million pound funding split into three elements.

Mark Alton has signed a new contract with McCain's as part of its Pledge.

A three to five-year loyalty scheme which rewards farmers for continuing to grow the crop; grower grants to invest in harvesting and sustainable farming and contracts which will ensure fair prices.

Daniel Metheringham, McCain’s director of agriculture for GB & Ireland, said the company was making a “big commitment” to British agriculture and its farmers.

“What has amazed me, working with McCain is the strong relationship we have with our farmers and a lot of these relationships go back 50 years to when the factory in Scarborough was built.

“The last couple of seasons have been very difficult. We have seen some extreme weather conditions which have really impacted on potato yields. This year was looking good but then we had the wettest harvest on record which made it a real challenge to bring crops in off the field. Added to that we have, of course, had the issues around Covid.”

While the funding will help with the Covid recovery, Mr Metheringham said the Pledge was in the pipeline before the pandemic hit.

“We talk to our farmers on a daily basis and were getting similar messages about the issues they were facing. From that feedback we were able to look at the three key pinch points to form the Pledge.”

The conversations also drove the way the funding has been released with a large chunk – 40 per cent – having been made available in the first year.

“We know from speaking to our farmers that they need that investment now. Growers have stretched themselves to keep producing potato crops and we want to support them, so by releasing the capital they can invest now and de-risk the business,” Mr Metheringham said.

The grant fund opened up in November so farmers would be able to make investments for the coming season. More than 85 farmers have applied to date and one, Mark Alton, who farms at Kirk Deighton near Wetherby said it had helped his decision to stay with the crop. A second generation McCain farmer whose family have been growing for the company since the 70s, Mr Alton said the last two years had been tough.

“We had the drought in 2018 so we saw a reduction in yields followed by the wettest autumn I can remember and we had to leave about 15 per cent of the crop in the ground.”

Around 300 acres on the farm is given over to potatoes and Mr Alton said he was thinking about coming out of the crop when McCain talked to him about its Potato Farmer Pledge.

“I still wanted to grow potatoes but not if it is wasn’t profitable,” he said.

Mr Alton got a grant to invest in a harvester which helps take the crop out of the ground quicker and means less traffic on the soil. But he said this alone would not have been enough to keep him producing the potatoes.

“We needed capital investment for the bottom line, then McCain made the proposal to assist farmers who were prepared to keep growing for them for a longer term.

“This helps redress the risks so I was prepared to keep going.

“They have listened and stepped in with financial packages to give my business confidence now and for some time into the future.”

But Mr Alton said the relationship played a large part in his decision, reinforced by the support they received through the Covid crisis.

“Both parties have helped to get over the problem and a lot of trust has been built up which made the decision much easier.”

Mr Metheringham, who lives in Pickering, North Yorkshire, said there was a “strong commitment” to supporting business sustainability.

“The future focus for the grant funding will be sustainable farming,” he said.

Sustainability and soil management will also tie in with the new Environment Land Management Scheme being phased in over the next seven years through the Agricultural Bill.

“We have superb standards in the UK and I think ELMS can tie in with what we are working towards.

“But our relationships are key. When we are faced with challenges we can talk directly to our farmers and I think that gives them confidence in us as well so they feel they can commit to us longer term.”