How potatoes are affected by changing climatic conditions

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Potatoes, like many other crops, are vulnerable to changing climatic conditions. Image Source: 	Avalon_Studio/Getty Images
Potatoes, like many other crops, are vulnerable to changing climatic conditions. Image Source: Avalon_Studio/Getty Images

Related tags Potato Climate change regenerative agriculture Food security Agriculture

As climatic conditions shift, key crops must face the challenges imposed by the weather’s new regime. Potatoes, one of our most beloved crops, are also highly sensitive to these changes.

It is not only extreme weather events​ that put agriculture at risk, but changing climatic conditions in general. And as climate change imposes new weather on us all, the conditions in which crops grow will change. This won’t affect all crops negatively, although some will be put in significant danger.

One of these is the humble potato. Potatoes require a lot of water to grow, but as rainfall decreases in key potato-growing areas such as Bolivia, producers will need to adapt to survive.

In Europe, the story of potatoes is complex, and it is not one specific kind of weather, but the weather’s very unpredictability, which will prove a challenge for the much-loved crop.

Let it rain

Weather is unpredictable, and is getting more so as the climate changes. Europe saw record high temperatures last summer, which also led to one of its longest periods without water. But climate change cannot be second-guessed, and rain often fell at unexpected times. For Dutch ingredients company Royal Cosun, which grows potatoes in Europe, this proved a challenge. 

Other crops impacted by changing climatic conditions

Potatoes are not the only crops that will be affected by changing climatic conditions. Others include​:

-        Maize

-        Wheat

-        Rice

-        Soy

-        Bananas and plantains

-        Cocoa

-        Coffee

Potato is vulnerable to heat stress and the overflow of water, “Potato is most vulnerable to drawn out heat stress and overflow of water,” a Royal Cosun spokesperson told FoodNavigator.

“You know climate is a massive challenge. Last year was a record year from a climate perspective, very unpredictable, so the fluctuations were very wet when we had to sow, to very dry when the plants need to grow, to very wet when we need to get crops out of the fields. So it was a big challenge for the farmers, and I think that is here to stay.

“I think the potato is more sensitive to changing conditions than the sugar beet (Cosun’s other main crop), so due to all these weather conditions the quality of the potato has been impacted significantly, and that's what we see also today. We see it in the factories, (and) the yields are impacted. Very wet conditions are not helping our crops there, and they have an impact on productivity.”

Gathering storm

American multinational PepsiCo, which also sources its potatoes from Europe, is too seeing an impact from changing climatic conditions.

“Climate change poses significant risks to our business and the communities where we operate. It could have an impact on the quantity and quality of agricultural raw materials available for our products. We are already seeing some of the impacts through a variety of risks such as flooding, heat stress, droughts / water stress, wildfires and high wind speed, among others,” David Wilkinson, senior director for procurement at PepsiCo Europe, told FoodNavigator. PepsiCo aims to combat this, in part, through regenerative agriculture​.

Wilkinson went on to stress how climatic conditions are only one part of the story when it comes to potatoes and the climate. “Extreme weather and rising temperatures pose a mounting threat for crop yields on a global scale – but climate change is only one factor threatening potato production. We can’t afford to overlook the impact of farming practices on our agricultural landscape. Our soils risk exhaustion from excessive farming and degradation through harsh chemicals. Our watershed is in danger of depletion if we don’t engage in sustainable water usage. How production is affected in the future depends on how well we prepare for these challenges."

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