4 September 1998

High hopes for potato prices at start of lifting

By Andrew Blake and Andrew Swallow

AS maincrop potato lifting gets underway, wariness surrounds the final outcome. But the combination of a reduced area and lower yields bodes well for prices, according to the British Potato Council.

"There is nothing really to suggest that we shouldnt see a three figure average throughout this season," says spokesman Rob Burrows.

Simon Bowen, of Anglian Produce, agrees that prospects for prices appear sound. But with the full effects of this seasons delayed plantings and disease still unclear he is no more positive than that.

"There are some very variable crops about – more so than usual mainly because of differences in planting dates," says Mr Bowen. "The real concern is over lack of tuber size with late plantings. The general feeling is that crops will run on the light side – perhaps 5-10% down."

Although trial digs have only just begun, the BPC estimates second early and early maincrop yields currently average 2t/ha (0.8t/acre) less than at the same time last year. Late plantings look well and have potential to put on end of season weight, says Mr Burrows. But bulking rates decline quite rapidly in September, notes Mr Bowen.

"The wild card is Maris Piper which is coming in a bit light off the fens." Pressure to meet contracts could underpin prices, he suggests.

Blight, generally kept in check, has already spurred early lifting of late-planted Shepody in Yorks with consequent loss of potential, he notes. "Its possibly a factor in other areas." But widespread lifting and marketing of crops previously destined for storage could temporarily depress prices.

Jim Godfrey reckons a three week delay in planting will cut yields on his 200ha (494 acres) of mainly Piper, King Edward and Cara at the Grove, Wooton, Ulceby, East Yorks. "I think they could be nearer 3t/ha down." Reflected nationally along with the reduced plantings that should help firm prices, he believes.

Two factors could offset that, he notes. "It doesnt need a vast drop in consumption to make a difference." Imports could also have a similar effect. The strong £ has already helped processors bring in Belgian material to plug end-of-season gaps, notes Mr Burrows. &#42

From east to west potato growers are awaiting maincrop results with baited breath. The outcome will dictate market prices this autumn and prices for seed, like this Cassanova (right) and Nadine (left) being desiccated on Jeff Daviess Tygwyn farm at Pennorth, Brecon, Powys.

MAINCROPPROSPECTS

&#8226 Yield 5-10% down?

&#8226 Lower area than 1997.

&#8226 Prices currently firm.

&#8226 Little change expected.