20 February 1998

Poland striving for quality

POLANDS 1.1m hectares of potatoes represent 50% of Europes total potato area, but concerns that exports could flood western markets appear unfounded – for now at least.

Quality is so poor that processors operating in Poland are importing from the West to keep factories running. Polish growers are being forced to concentrate on quality not yield, so reducing total output.

That was the message at a Technical Tactics for Quality Potatoes conference, organised by Rhone-Poulenc in Warsaw. It will take at least five years before Poland realises its potential, and maybe 10 before it can start exporting, delegates heard.

"Our supermarket infrastructure is weak, so it is the processor who is pushing for development, brought about by changes in consumer buying habits," said Piotr Siepak, general manager for Rhone-Poulenc Poland.

Processing capacity is 150,000t, split between four companies. That represents just 1% of the total potato market. But a new 300,000t a year McCains plant will see the figure treble. Predictions are that by the year 2000 processing capacity will have risen to 7%.

Annual consumption of processed potatoes in Poland stands at just 7kg a head, compared with 147kg of fresh potatoes. UK figures are 42kg and 60kg, respectively.

Polands pig herd is fed 47% of the crop (12m tonnes), while inadequate storage and poor transport links mean losses of a further 4.4m tonnes.

"West Europeans run large farms in the west of the country, but 60% of the 26m tonnes of potato crop can be found on farms of less than 20ha and usually grown in 0.5ha fields," added Mr Siepak.

Yields last year averaged just 16t/ha (6.5t/acre), while prices struggled to reach the equivalent of £60/t for best processing quality, with most of the crop sold fresh for £18/t.

"Our yields are low because many producers cannot afford pesticides and other inputs, although the better producers spend approximately £90/ha on chemicals," Mr Siepak explained.

Jozefa Kapsa of the Polish Research Institute pointed out that trial work is increasingly looking at resistant cultivars and how they help to ease disease pressure, particularly late blight. Fungicidal disease control has fallen from 83% in 1992 to 28% during 1996, she said.

Colorado Beetle thrives in Poland, forcing producers to spray their entire growing area last year. By contrast just 23% of the land receives herbicide and 28% fungicide.

"British farmers should not see the Polish market as a threat today," said Mr Siepak. "But, in five to 10 years, this could all change as outside investment is attracted, allowing new technologies to be adopted, releasing Polands latent potential."

Polish processing capacity is set to treble, says RPs Piotr Siepak

POLANDS POTATOES

&#8226 50% of European potato area.

&#8226 26m tonne crop – 47% for pig feed.

&#8226 1% of crop processed now, new McCain plant will treble that.

&#8226 7% for processing by 2000.

&#8226 16t/ha average yield – export threat at least 10 years away.