12 May 1995

Cornish liftings rise but no new potato flood

By Philip Clarke

NEW potato liftings are gathering pace in Cornwall and prices are dropping accordingly.

But with other areas still delayed by Aprils frosts, and with harvesting expected to be more spread out due to the extended planting season, the Potato Marketing Board is optimistic the market will not be flooded.

"Supermarkets have not really switched on to UK new crop yet, so we dont want to get going too quickly," says PMB fieldsman in the south west, John Harris.

Daily liftings in Cornwall are now topping the 100t mark, compared with 20 to 30t last week. Prices have subsequently eased back to about £660 to £690/t compared with £700 to £750/t last week.

With yields now averaging £12t/ha (4.9t/acre), the PBM put the gross return from new crop this week at £8205/ha (£3321/acre). This compares favourably with last year when, at the same time, yields were just 9t/ha (3.6t/acre) and the gross return stood at £7939/ha (£3213/acre).

The total area lifted in Cornwall is also ahead, with Minerva, Rocket, Swift and Alcmaria the four main varieties.

But elsewhere it is a different story. Growers in Pembrokeshire, Suffolk and Essex are not expected to start lifting until next week. Kent is slightly more advanced, with token liftings for local retailers under way.

"The crop has not recovered as fast as was hoped after the frosts, and yields are still only about two-and-a-half tonnes to the acre," says PMB fieldsman Dave Lowrie.

Values have so far maintained a healthy premium over Cornwall, reflecting the tighter supply. Last week farmers were getting about £1200/t, although by the middle of this week, this had slipped to £1000/t as first samples were sent

Imports continue to dominate the new crop trade, however. Jersey is currently ahead of last year, having sent 2608t by May 7 compared with 2363t in the same period last year.

Egypt has finished lifting and supplies so far to the UK have totalled 95,800t compared with 64,500t last year.

Apart from the higher level of imports, the only other clouds on the horizon are the effect prolonged high prices may have on consumption (old crop is still close to £300/t) and the prospect of 5% extra plantings for 1995 across Europe.

This is estimated at about a 5% increase, although most is in the early/second early sector, says the PMB, rather than area for long-term storage.