HL Deb 20 June 1944 vol 132 cc301-4WA

asked His Majesty's Government, whether they will state—

  1. (1) What proportion of total potato acreage of England is located in the County of Lincoln.
  2. (2) What proportion of the total of dehydration of potatoes is carried out in the County of Lincoln.
  3. (3) The estimated loss of potatoes this year to date by directed delayed marketing.
  4. (4) Whether they are planning now to bridge for 1945 the uncertain "gap" of domestic potato consumption by supplies of dehydrated instead of fresh potatoes.
  5. (5) What proportion of the available potato dehydration capacity has been so used in the past six months.


I. It is not in the Public interest to disclose information which would permit an accurate estimate to be made of the actual acreage of potatoes or any other crop in any particular county. But I can give my noble friend a rough indication of the position. Before the war the potato acreage in the County of Lincoln was approximately 25 per cent. of the total acreage in England and Wales. Although during the war there has been a substantial increase in the acreage of potatoes grown in Lincolnshire, the proportion of the total acreage which is located in that county has fallen somewhat.

2. There are two distinct processes of dehydration of potatoes. The first is designed to produce a product, such as strips or potato mash powder, which can be reconstituted for human consumption as potato. The plants for the production of these products have been installed in factories (1) where the necessary space and services (such as steam and electric power) are available, and (2) where the Ministry of Labour were satisfied that the required labour force could be provided without prejudicing the requirements of other essential industries. It has not been easy to find factories where all these conditions can be met and it has not been possible to install any such plants in the County of Lincoln.

The other dehydration process is intended to avoid wastage of potatoes not required or not suitable for direct human consumption as potatoes. This process yields products such as potato flour for human consumption or cosettes for animal feed. Apart from the sugar beet factories, which can if necessary be used for this purpose, the drying plants in Lincolnshire, designed for this process, represent about 66 per cent. of the capacity in England and Wales. It should, however, be made clear that these plants, in contrast to the strip and potato mash plants, operate only when there is available either a surplus of potatoes or a quantity of potatoes which are deteriorating and would otherwise be wasted. It is not a programmed production.

3. The holding back of potatoes from marketing until the end of the season is a policy which has been rendered inevitable by the absence, under war conditions, of the peace-time imports of early potatoes. It has been necessary to ensure that sufficient potatoes were retained to meet the demand until the new home grown crop was available. This has inevitably resulted in a certain amount of deterioration. The policy adopted by the Ministry of Food has been to hold back the long-keeping ware potatoes so as to allow the poor-keeping varieties to be used first, and at the same time to provide the necessary end of season reserve. This policy has resulted in a substantial reduction in the wastage which would otherwise have occurred. The reserve of long-keeping potatoes of the 1943 crop which has thus been built up is now being used and it is unlikely that any surplus will remain from it. If this procedure had not been adopted the better types of long-keeping potatoes would have been used up earlier in the season and the poorer-keeping varieties, which in the event have been used first while still in a condition to be used for human consumption, would have suffered rapid deterioration. Thus heavy wastage would have occurred and the gap between the old and the new crops would not have been bridged.

The Ministry of Food has also held back in England and Wales a reserve of potatoes suitable for use as "seed" in the event of transport stringency preventing adequate supplies of Scotch and Northern Irish "seed" being distributed in time for planting, as well as to prevent pota- toes which might be required for "seed" from being consumed. A small part of the "seed" reserve was not required for planting. The Ministry of Food has bought this small surplus from the growers; part has been sold for human consumption and the remainder is being disposed of for stock feeding.

4 and 5. The aim of the Ministry of Food as regards the production of dehydrated strip and mash potato is not primarily to bridge the gap between the old and new crops but to meet the needs of the Services. The whole of these products so far produced has been packed for Service use. If there should be any surplus after the Service demands have been met this would be available as a reserve against any gap which there might be between the crops in the summer of 1945. Moreover, having regard to transport difficulties which may be encountered over the next few weeks until the new crop is in plentiful supply, a small quantity of strip dried potato has been placed in those areas where a shortage might occur. The size of the package renders it unsuitable for sale to the general public and, if necessary, it would be used to satisfy the needs of large users thereby leaving additional quantities of raw potatoes for domestic consumers.

House adjourned.