By FWi staff

MORE rain last week resigned many growers to abandon lifting until the spring although a few harvesters struggled on clearing a mere 75ha over the whole week.

This reduced the deficit in the ground to about 7000ha, slightly lower than the 8000ha left to overwinter in 1992. The British Potato Council now estimates that a total of 95% of the crop has been cleared.

Producers should now turn their attention to careful store management, where extra time monitoring is likely to provide increased returns, said a spokesman from the BPC.

Prices steadied this week on the back of mixed quality, although bulk prices have continued to firm for best packing material. Grade 1 Piper and Estima made up to £300-£325/t for some samples, but most white samples are £150-£180/t. Top material can make up to £200/t, with reds at £160-£200/t. Best red samples can fetch as much as £270/t.

Demand for value-pack material rose, taking values between £130-£140/t, but poorer samples remained at £80-£120/t. Interest in the bag trade remained strong and values remained steady.

Piper start at £80-£120/t for poor samples, but average at £150-£190/t. Top material can fetch £250/t. White varieties range between £125-£160/t and reds £140-£200/t. Some samples are making £230/t.

Futures markets have steadied this week as the traditional Christmas lull starts to take effect. April 1999 contracts finished slightly down in London on Thursday at £313/t and Amsterdam futures also eased at £274/t.

The physical market succeeded in shaking off resistance from buyers to pay these higher values, and the BPC weekly ex-farm average price climbed again to £167.99/t. This compares with £75.23 last year and £50.72 in 1996.

The ware average was also up, at £177.63/t compared to £70.69/t in 1997, but nearer to the £176.35/t of the same period in 1995.