13 September 2001
Harvest 2001: spud prices appalling

By Tom Allen-Stevens and Tom Hood

GENERALLY potato harvest is a shade late this year, but most growers appear to be happy with yield and quality. The main worry is price fixed to rock bottom.

“Theres a remarkable lack of demand, Simon Heath, who farms at Stockton near Newport in Shropshire told FARMERS WEEKLY on Thursday (13 September)

“I hope that once the stores are full, people will turn down the appalling prices and the prices will firm up. Its not realistic to be selling quality potatoes at 60/t.”

Yields have been average and quality good: We have had some very bold samples for early bagging and fish and chips.”

Also in Shropshire, Richard Maddocks , who farms with his father near Newport, believes cashflow is the culprit that has dragged down prices.

“There is no reason why the price should have fallen recently, but I think a lot of farmers have needed to shift them to get some cash.”

On the plus side, the west is enjoying a lot of dry weather, which is helping harvesting considerably. East Anglia is not so fortunate.

“We are about two weeks behind in harvesting and I cant see us finishing till November,” says Tony Bambridge, director of B and C Potatoes near Alysham.

Yields are about 8-10% down mainly down to planting date, he says But quality is good: Its meeting the customer specification with good skin finish.

Andrew Hornigoldnear Kings Lynn says the same: “Weve had the best now, but the quality is fantastic at the moment. The pre-packers are in for a big shock.”

The late harvest means tuber numbers are low, but again price worries dominate: If we dont achieve the yield we could be making a loss.”

“People who are not members of a potato co-op are having trouble with move-ment off the farm and are at the mercy of the market, Mr Bambridge points out.

Graeme Byersof the Higgins Group, based near Doncaster, the good growing season should offset yield penalties suffered through planting late.

But long dry periods followed by wet spells mean scab is becoming a problem. The variation in conditions has made it difficult to manage the water levels.”

For potatoes going into storage there are problems of skin set. Late planting has meant the crop has been late maturing.

“For the crisping market, the farmers must allow the crop to do some natural senescing before being desiccated.”