15 September 2000

Is confidence back for spuds?

SEPTEMBERS Indian summer is unlikely to restore potato yield that was lost to earlier poor weather, says the British Potato Council.

Early maturing potato crops are senescing fast or being burnt off and although later-planted maincrops have continued to bulk, overall output is expected to be 1-2t/ha (8-16cwt/acre) down on an area 4% less than last year, says the BPCs Rob Burrow.

"It has put more confidence in the market so far. Prices have eased a bit recently, but the average of £118/t at the end of last week is still higher than the £75/t at the same time last year."

The fuel crisis had not hit potato markets by Tuesday, he adds.

Crop quality overall is expected to be much the same as last year. "We could be looking at 15% wastage," he says. "There are fewer reports of greening, but there is scab and cracking in some places. I expect that by the end of the season we could be getting a bit short of the best pre-packing samples."

Total liftings by the end of last week were about 22,300ha (55,100 acres), 3.5% up on 1999. Yields, at 25-75t/ha (10-30t/acre), remain very variable, and the average of 41t/ha (16.5t/acre) is nearly 7% down on the same time last year.

Despite earlier rains, scab resulting from a hot dry spell at tuber initiation is largely to blame, says Mr Marshall. "We are also seeing a lot more black scurf than usual in some varieties." &#42