9 August 2002

Cause of slide in spud values divides opinion

By Andrew Shirley

POTATOES are trading at values significantly down on last years levels, with a glut of Continental produce shouldering much of the blame.

The British Potato Councils average ex-farm price, which includes crops sold under contract, fell £3.51/t last week to £83.65/t, compared with £115.74/t for this time last season.

But in Belgium, the average value for early varieties has fallen as low as £11/t and there are reports that some farmers are so desperate to clear their fields they are offering the crop free of charge to anybody who will harvest it.

About 10% of the French early crop is also still in the ground despite being earmarked for lifting by the end of July.

Tony Bambridge, chairman of fresh and processed potato firm Greenvale APs grower group, says: "Even if processors arent buying from the Continent, the fact they could get lower prices if they wanted to will push down values here.

"For producers with a contract, some of their tonnage still will be linked to the open market."

Industry consultant Peter Cooper is not convinced that excess supply in Europe is the sole factor behind the current low values. "It is a little bit strong to say Europe has affected our prices."

He reckons oversupply from last season and a clash between the UK and Mediterranean early crops is having more of an impact.

"It might be different if values were three times more than Europe, but with Premiere selling for £45-55/t delivered here I think processors will continue to use the UK crop."

BPC economist Guy Gagen says it is too early to predict what will happen to prices as the season progresses, but concedes there is the "potential for moderately high production" – something that would put further pressure on values.

He says UK plantings are down 4% on last year, but good planting conditions could make up for this. &#42