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Fresh warning about frozen chip shortage

The national frozen chip shortage may soon be over as potato farmers and factories kick into high gear to meet the hunger for the easy-bake staple that has been missing from supermarkets for months.

With potato harvests underway in Tasmania and Victoria (Australia’s largest spud production areas) and chip factories operating at capacity, consumers could see potato products in supermarket freezers in a matter of weeks.

Wet weather, increased production costs, and restrictions on international imports last year led to a widespread shortage of potato products in supermarkets and takeaway shops across the country.

Victorian Farmers Federation vice president of horticulture Katherine Myers is hopeful the current harvest will meet short-term demand.

“We should start to see improved availability of chips in fish and chip shops, and on the shelves as the harvest progresses,” she toldABC Rural.

She said factories were “up and running” with spuds from South Australia and from the “Victorian/NSW Riverina area”, with the Central Highlands around Ballarat set to start harvesting soon.

Head of the Tasmanian Simplot potato grower committee Leigh Elphinstone also told the broadcaster his harvest was looking good with minimal “reject” potatoes thrown aside.

He is hopeful his pickers’ efforts will ease the shortage in the short-term when factories can “catch up with their orders and supply”.

But he and Ms Myers both warned another potato shortage may come as soon as next year due to the ripple effect of the less-than-ideal and international economic conditions that caused the first shortage.

A wetter than usual spring last year delayed paddock preparation and crop planting for this year’s harvest, leading to lower overall harvest yields.

“Because there is a smaller volume planted than desired, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s going to be the same chip shortage for next year,” Mr Elphinstone told the ABC.

Ms Myers echoed his warning, saying “total yields are expected to be down this year” in Australia and overseas – especially neighbouring New Zealand, which has faced its own battles with catastrophic weather.

“I don’t imagine their yield has been phenomenal this year,” she said, adding that the industry “won’t be back to normal for a fair while”.

Droughts in Europe and the US have also impacted their potato production, and ongoing issues with international supply chains further exacerbated the local situation.

In an attempt to curb the problem, Coles had imposed a nationwide temporary purchase limit of two bags of frozen potato chips per customer.

Woolworths did not enforce such restrictions but warned its customers before Christmas there would be limits on a range of fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables due to the La Nina weather system.

Australia’s two major potato processing brands, McCain and Simplot, said their plants were operating at full capacity, the ABC reports.

Simplot’s Ulverstone factory in Tasmania has reportedly processed about 28,000 tonnes of potatoes since the start of the year – almost 10 per cent of its average annual processing volume of 300,000 tonnes of potatoes.

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