14 November 1997

Potato growers turn to pasta-eating markets

TURNING a nation of pasta-eaters into a nation of potato-eaters is the task at hand, as growers look to exports to help support prices.

According to the British Potato Council, big opportunities exist in Mediterranean countries, such as Italy. Five years ago, there was no trade to Italy; now 1000t of potatoes heads there, says BPCs Diana Rees. And this year, with Italian output down 18%, theres even more potential.

"We must compete at the top end of the quality market, because of our relatively high transport costs," says Ms Rees.

Total export volumes so far this season are slightly down on last year, with 37,685t moved between Jun 1 and Nov 7. But this, says Ms Rees, reflects the late start to buying in the Canary Isles – and overall volumes should increase.

"What could go against us now, however, is if growers close the store doors and customers go elsewhere. Dont starve the market."

The Dutch, it seems, have also been concentrating on exports, sending samples to new outlets, such as Russia and Greece.

John Bull of BDR Commod-ities says this has boosted prices in Holland and, in turn, given a lift to the British futures market.

April contacts rose £20 in a week, to £138.50/t on Tuesday. Confidence in the trade, together with concerns over crop quality and storage, also contributed. "Weve grown an awful lot of potatoes and seen some massive yields – but its now a question of how much will be usable."

BPC export manager Diana Rees (second right) talks quality with Italian buyers at Fenmare, Cambs.