28 May 1999

Early optimism, maincrop fears

PROSPECTS for early potatoes could improve as liftings begin in earnest; the late season is reducing the chance of a clash with imports.

But maincrop prices remain under threat as planting continues apace.

Early supplies have been dug in most areas, including Scotland, this week. The first small volumes for local delivery have been trading at 45p/lb, equivalent to £990/t, says British Potato Councils (BPC) Rob Burrow.

In Kent prices topped £440/t with deliveries to London markets slightly back at £330 to £360/t. In contrast, Cornish supplies continue to ease at £200-£270/t for bagged and £250-£280/t for bulk supplies, says the BPC.

With a later season, mainstream supplies of earlies may come under less pressure from imports. Jersey had an early season by comparison, says Mr Burrow, and over half the 45,000t expected to reach mainland markets has been imported already.

Over 7000t from Brittany, due for processing, are expected to arrive from mid-June and should not compete heavily with fresh supplies. Cyprus earlies will continue, he adds.

Maincrop planting should end on all but the heaviest land by the start of June. Over 134,000ha had been planted by Wednesday as better weather helped growers get on to land.

"Its not too late for growers. Plantings continued into late June last year," adds Mr Burrow. BPC stands by its survey suggesting total plantings could rise to over 143,000ha, an increase of almost 5% on last year.

"Planting returns have been sent out and a few have come back. It wont be until early July until well have the first clear indication whether growers intentions have been carried out and how prices may be affected."

The gradual drying up of last years maincrop is seeing prices ease. Best fry, pack and bake supplies are taking the premium at between £250 to £300/t. Poorer supplies are well back at £60/t. &#42