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Dennis Heywood, acting chairman of the Potato Council, is keen to stress to levy-payers that the services they value will continue.

“The BPC has done a good job, so Potato Council staff will carry on working with levy payers to retain the same high calibre of research, marketing and other activities,” he said.

Potato CouncilThe business plan for the next twelve months is already being delivered, Mr Heywood added. “Levy collection will be unchanged – all funds collected from the potato industry are ring-fenced and will be spent within the potato sector.”

The first priority for the new sector company will be to find out from levy-payers how the new levy body structure can deliver even better value for money from funds collected and future priorities for the potato industry.

A new 14-strong board comes in to replace the BPC council, although five BPC board members retain their position. The new board will spend the next three months seeking out constructive views from as many levy-payers as possible.

“There will be opportunities offered by the new levy board structure and we want to make sure the potato industry makes the most of these,” said Mr Heywood. “Maybe we should be doing more in a specific area, or perhaps what’s needed is a change of focus.”

The aim of this dialogue is to see at least 10% of levy-payers face-to-face. Feedback will be collated and used to inform business plans from 2009 and beyond, as well as help decide priorities for the potato sector.


British Potato Council site providing weekly market and price reports, plus specific growers advice for levy payers. Very good online seed variety handbook available free lets you search for varieties by name, market or specification. Download variety disease tolerance tables. The BPC’s consumer website is www.britishpotatoes.co.uk.

A specialist site aimed at potato growers. Features include agronomy tips, market news, weather, blight watch service and a variety search. Free registration needed for all services.

US based site covering news, events and market reports from around the world – users can specify info from UK and Europe only. Bi-weekly newsletter for registered users.

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26 December 1997


POTATO growers start the new year with the prospect of higher prices than last season – but there again, they couldnt be much lower.

Ex-farm average values edged up in the week to Dec 12 to £75/t. Although 41% higher than 1996, this is a far cry from two seasons ago when spuds were typically changing hands at £165/t.

On the supply side, the British Potato Councils first estimate of the 1997 crop is 7.03m tonnes, up from 6.94m tonnes. The increase came as higher yields more than offset the 8% downturn in planted area.

"Its quite a big crop – but theres also quite a quality problem," says John Anderson of the Scottish Agricultural College.

The likelihood of an over-supply situation will be eased, therefore, with grading-out diverting as much as 20% of some packing samples for multiples into dumps or stock feed troughs.

This should help keep values above year-earlier levels, although a mild spring – and with it the early arrival of new-crop varieties – could put prices under pressure, says Mr Anderson. "It could put a question mark over May."

Quality issues are behind the big price variations, with BPC figures showing a range between £25 and £160/t. While this is likely to remain – or broaden – any rise in the upper ceiling will be limited by the potential of imports.

EU-wide, the crop is down 3% – but it is still on the high side of average. British exporters, meanwhile, arent thanking the strong £ sterling – but had shifted nearly as big a volume by mid-December as in the corresponding period last year.

Once again, the best crops in environmentally-controlled buildings will be a world away from the poorer ones in ambient stores. "Good storage pays from day one," says Mr Anderson.

But cash flow considerations may bring more samples on to the market early, with mixed farmers facing lower returns from lamb, beef and arable enterprises.

While wastage is currently high, this should fall as growers – having sold the bottom end of the quality spectrum first – are left with their better samples.n


MANAGING risk is one of the greatest challenges facing UK agriculture as profits slump to new lows.

Risk comes in many shapes and sizes, including currency change, price variability, on-farm accidents, taxation issues and interest rate rises, not to mention the climatic and political risks.

Tackling these risks requires a management strategy, and that is the theme of this years Farm Finance supplement. We talk to bankers, financiers, surveyors, tax specialists and accountants to try and pick a path through the financial jungle. See pull-out section for more details.

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27 December 1996


THE sooner forgotten, the better. – that is how many potato growers will view 1996.

Ex-farm prices were consistently below the levels of 12 months earlier and now look set to start the new year at about the £50/t-mark. A far cry from 12 months ago, when £165/t was the average.

But such figures conceal big variations. Currently ranging from £15 to £150/t, a wide range of values seems likely to continue to be a feature of the market.

The price outlook now depends partly on how producers modify planting decision in response to such lower returns.

Some, having seen the crop lose money, may cut back or abandon the enterprise. But any substantial contraction could soon result in a shortfall and, therefore, permanently jeopardise market share to imports.

Others will be more bullish, possibly expanding. And those producing a quality product, for a pre-determined market, have reason to be confident.

Once again in 1997, growers will not face the limitation of quota, the removal of which in 1996 led to plantings of 151,740ha (374,950 acres), nearly 6000ha (14,830 acres) above the Potato Marketing Boards guideline.

The weather, of course, remains the one big unknown. And with up to half of the area grown still outside the reach of regular irrigation, this will be key factor in determining the supply and demand equation.

As the new year opens, relatively high stock levels will keep a lid on prices.

At the end of October, they stood at 4.78m tonnes, up 0.45m tonnes on 12 months earlier.

But the effect of this will be limited with growers having graded hard since then.

Exports, too, have been running high. From early August to mid-December, they accounted for 59,000t, with a buoyant trade to the Canaries, Spain and Ireland.

Demand has also been helped by the lower prices. In October, for example, human consumption was 504,000t, about 8% up on the same period in 1995.

Such lower prices could tempt producers to economise on seed costs.

But this could represent a false economy, with sub-standard product limiting yield and quality.

And in a market where ever fewer buyers yield evermore power, producing for what the market wants will, again, be vital.

Growers are also likely to make more use of forward contracts as the market becomes more volatile. Similarly, use of futures trading should be considered – but as an insurance, rather than a speculative measure.

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29 December 1995


POTATO prices seem likely to start the New Year at levels similar to 12 months ago, but any increase thereafter is unlikely to match last years meteoric rise.

Latest Potato Marketing Board figures estimate the 1995 crop at 6.018m tonnes, down 4% on the previous year. And grower confidence has been boosted knowing that end of October stocks, at 4.123m tonnes, were the lowest for six years.

But consumption has reacted to high prices, coupled with the mild autumn weather, and has been consistently down on year-earlier levels.

Furthermore, imports have more than quadrupled compared to last year, reaching 46,500t by early December. Exports, meanwhile, at about 50,000t, are down.

As the supply/demand equation becomes clearer, therefore, it seems increasingly unlikely that prices will return to 1995 levels when the £360/t mark was topped in June.

Latest PMB figures put 1995 plantings up 4% at 146,341ha (361,609 acres). Average yields, meanwhile, fell 8% to 40t/ha (16t/acre).

But with 1996 being a non-quota year, growers will have more freedom over their planting.

They are being urged to plan production with regard to the PMBs guideline, which again stands at 146,000ha (360,766 acres).

Some may choose to increase their security by making forward sales.

And the need to grow for specific markets has been well documented, with further cuts in "unfocussed production" likely.

A broad differential between high-quality and low-quality samples is also likely to be a feature of 1996.

This has widened in recent weeks as poorer samples, resulting from difficult growing and keeping conditions, have come on the market.

It contributed to the reversal of the recent upward price trend in the week to Dec 15, when values fell £3 to £165/t.

Twelve months before, the figure had been £154/t.

This seasons strong export trade in best samples – in particular to the Canary Islands, which had taken almost 80% of the August to mid-December total movement – has also contributed to the establishment of a two-tier market.

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