POTATO PRODUCTION this year is likely to be around 6% below 2004, according to provisional figures from the British Potato Council (BPC).

Total production for 2005 is estimated at 5,659,000 tonnes, compared to 6,009,000t last year. The drop is due to two percent lower yields, combined with a 4% fall in area, said the BPC’s Denis Alder.

“Yields were down slightly due to later planting and drier than normal conditions this summer. As a result many crops were slightly less bold and had smaller tubers.”

But demand is relatively slow at the moment, which means prices are not increasing as they did in 2003 – when production was at a similar level (5,812,000t), he suggested.

Average maincrop prices are around £84/t ex-farm, compared to £77/t last year. “Supply and demand are pretty much in balance and demand is quite weak, particularly from the food service sector.”

On the upside, good lifting conditions in most areas means quality and storage prospects are generally good, apart from some localised incidence of common scab in drier areas, he added.

Looking forward to next year, Mr Alder does not expect to see any turn around in the long term trend for decreasing potato area.

“If prices remain as unexciting as they are at the moment, we have to assume there will be no increase in planted area. It is likely to stay about the same or perhaps fall further.”

Final estimates of production and area for the 2005 crop year will be published mid-January 2006.

Further details can be found at www.potato.org.uk