26 June 1998

New season potato prices suggest good prospects ahead

By Robert Harris

NEW season potato prices have dipped recently, but remain well above last years levels, boding well for values later in the season.

Average prices are twice those seen last year, though yields are slightly down. But poor weather and a prolonged planting period have combined to restrict supplies, with just over 43,000t moved by the end of last week, almost 8500t less than 1997.

"The average price last week for earlies was £166/t," says Rob Burrow of the British Potato Council. "That was quite a fall from the week before, when the average was £224. Prices again eased slightly on Monday."

Values a tonne ranged from £80-£120 for bagged Bard and Javelin in Cornwall, with bulk supplies worth from £100. Specialist varieties like Charlotte were worth up to £220. In other regions, Bard and Javelin fetched £120-£150/t, with good samples worth more, especially in some local markets.

Demand is climbing as supermarkets take more English potatoes. The ubiquitous Jersey Royal is finishing up to a month earlier than normal, with total tonnage struggling to top 35,000t, nearly 40% below last years mammoth crop. Southern European produce is on the shelves but only in small amounts, Mr Burrow adds.

"Much now depends on the weather staying decent, and demand. Prices should hold, and may even increase over the next few days."

Supermarkets have "dragged their feet" with the English crop, says David Alvis of Anglian Produce in Norfolk. But current prices will help growers recoup last years losses, he adds. "If we get a good start to the second early/maincrop and keep clearing ground, that will help maintain prices. If we can keep that up until mid-August, that should give a steady ride from there on out."

lBulk maincrop is maintaining a strong close to the season due to light early movement and the poor weather, says BPC. High baker content samples are fetching up to £250/t. Processors are importing, as spot buys become limited, though Piper is still in demand at £60-£125, and Saturna £180-£200+. &#42