British potato farmers have been given a helping hand by Tesco after the worst growing conditions since the 1976 drought hampered the growth of this year's crop.

Unseasonably freezing Spring temperatures in parts of Britain followed by the summer drought severely hit potato growers across the country.

For many UK growers it meant a struggle supplying potatoes to supermarkets because of crop specifications set by retailers governing the overall look and quality of fruit and vegetables.

But to help British growers and prevent otherwise perfectly good potatoes from going to waste Tesco widened those specifications to ensure they will still go on sale.

The move has resulted in Tesco, so far, taking an extra 4000 tonnes of potatoes.

And for shoppers it means that a greater variety of different but perfectly good potato sizes will now end up on supermarket shelves across the UK.

Rob Hooper, Tesco's potato expert said:

“We've worked with our potato growers to use as much of the crop and prevent perfectly good spuds from going to waste.

“We want to support our growers wherever we can – and although some potatoes might be smaller and larger they still pack the same great taste our customers expect.

“The situation was so bad in August and September that we had to bring in imports as an emergency measure to make sure we could meet our regular demand.”

Tesco increased the size of baby potatoes by 3mm which allowed its growers to keep these potatoes in the ground longer and get higher yields.

It has decreased the size of other lines by 5mm which has allowed growers to increase their yields of already harvested crops.

The aim of this was to stretch out supplies of British potatoes and avoid the need to import at the end of the season in May and June.

Branston, based in Lincolnshire, are one of the UK's top five potato packers, handling around 350,000 tonnes a year.

Branston Sales and Marketing Director Sharon Affleck said:

“The extreme cold of the Beast from the East delayed planting in the spring, then the extended heat and drought of the summer impacted on crop growth and development.

“Potatoes need a good water supply to help them to grow evenly and bulk up, especially when it's hot.

“This means that the fresh potatoes available to pack are generally smaller, and the shape and skin finish is not as smooth as consumers may be used to.

“Being aware of this, Tesco has worked with their suppliers, who in turn are supporting their growers, to allow a greater flexibility in the specifications of fresh potatoes that are being packed.”

The spec widening is in place until June when the first of the new season's crop comes in.

NFU chief horticulture adviser Lee Abbey said:

“It continues to be critically important that retailers provide flexibility on specifications during difficult growing seasons in order for British farmers to do what they do best – producing food for the nation.

When Tesco signed up to the NFU's Fruit & Veg Pledge in 2017, they committed to a set of principles that are flexible and led by production, including commitments to minimise waste and utilise as much of the crop as possible.

“The 2018 season has been extremely challenging for growers so I am pleased to see Tesco honour its commitments and working with growers to minimise the impacts.”