12 September 2001
Harvest 2001: Potatoes hard to sell

By Tom Allen-Stevens and Tom Hood

POTATO harvest has been getting under way across the UK, with good lifting conditions meaning harvest is slightly earlier than last year, if anything.

But growers are worried about the lack of early interest from buyers, believed to be down to last years backlog.

The British Potato Councils Guy Gagen reports 16% of the crop has been harvested so far, and a higher overall yield is expected, but this wont show yet.

“Harvesting now is an economic decision and not biological so it is difficult to comment on yields,” he told FARMERS WEEKLY on Wednesday (12 September).

“We are expecting slightly less in the East as there were a few more belts of rain passing through at planting time.”

Robert Smith, of Russell Smith Farms in Cambridgeshire, reports steady progress, hampered by slow skin set. “It was not helped by the late planting dates.”

Late second early crop Estima are yielding well at 49t/ha (20t/acre), but main crop King Edwards “are a bit light” at 37t/ha (15t/acre), although quality has been good.

“Ive been pleased with the quality so far. Theres a lot of scab around, but we seemed to have avoided it by irrigating at the right time.”

Simon Bowen, of the Abbey Group based near Peterborough, also reports fairly good quality and good lifting conditions.

“In the hot and dry conditions some have shown secondary growth with some mis-shapes.” But he is more worried about the marketing side of the business.

“A lot of the second early crops are sitting in the ground with nowhere to go. The longer this goes on the more nervous growers will become.”

He says there are lots of reasons why the market is saturated. “There is a backlog from last season which has carried through earlies and the demand is poorer.”

Mr Smith is more conciliatory: “The flooded market was bound to happen with late planted crops all coming together at the same time.”

Darryl Kenyon of Broadacre farms, based on Merseyside, is also concerned about the price and the trade the company has been able to do.

“It is not so much a price issue as an orders issue. In the last 3-4 weeks there have been no orders, with no packers or processors doing much trade.”

He expects the market not to fully recover till after Christmas. “Overall we dont need a wet harvest like we had last year.”

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