Cut potato areas to bring production in line with demand and to help improve prices, industry representatives advised growers at British Potato 2009.

Recent Potato Council estimates have put the 2009 crop at over 6m tonnes, resulting in average prices below £100/t. The situation in the free-buy market is even worse, averaging just £77/t compared with £103/t at the same point last year.

“We probably need a significant reduction in area to bring production in line with requirement. We really only need around 5.7m tonnes to meet demand.” Paul Coleman, Greenvale technical director, told Farmers Weekly. “I haven’t seen any real signs there will be any cut, but growers who aren’t making money should look closely at their potato enterprise and consider whether they should continue.”

Duncan Worth, a potato grower in Lincolnshire but also chairman of QV Foods, said from a grower perspective areas needed to be cut. “As a farming business we’ve taken the decision to cut back our area by 15% next year. We will only be growing on our best land, and taken 100 acres of more marginal land out of potato production.

“It is also important growers should have a proposed market for the crop when you put it in the ground, not just plant it speculatively.”

Data analysis by Denis Alder of the Potato Council suggested a small cut in area could make a big difference to price, the Potato Council’s Rob Clayton pointed out.

Over the past dozen seasons an average potato price at this year’s £100/t level brought a 5% drop in area the following season. If that translated to a 5% cut in production also the data suggested it would result in a 25-30% increase in price, he explained.

“I think area has to be cut back next year,” Dr Clayton said. “Growers have to resist speculative planting if it turns out to be easy conditions for planting.”

Planting marginal land “for a punt” invariably just produced poor quality product, while increasing overall production, he said. “Growers have to review whether the land they have is going to make the grade.”

Instead it would be better to knock out difficult areas, such as corners, or where it was difficult to irrigate, he advised. “Make your life as square as possible.”

For a FW View on this story, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog.

Business-blog