19 January 2001

Potato losses loom in wake of severe frosts

HEAVY frosts are taking their toll on unlifted potato crops and growers now harvesting face losses of at least 50%, according to the British Potato Council.

"This will vary from region to region, with some crops totally destroyed," says the BPCs Rob Burrow. "But its still too early to make any firm estimates. Many growers are waiting for fields to completely thaw before deciding whether crops are worth salvaging."

Before Christmas a record 20,000ha (50,000 acres) were still in the ground, and little progress has been made since. Latest BPC estimates suggest at least 19,000ha remains, 13% of the total.

This has had little influence on the market so far, with prices remaining fairly stable since Christmas, says Mr Burrow. "More processors and packers are substituting average and lower grade material with imports as they are cheaper and more readily available."

Imports have rocketed in recent weeks, from 98,000t in December to 125,000t last week. This compares with 17,000t a year ago.

But demand for quality UK material remains strong, and prices continue to rise. Values at the top end of the market are about £200/t with most at £160-£180/t.

Poorest quality are fetching £50/t, up to £60-£100/t for medium quality. "Top quality material will continue to rise, but for most other samples values will remain fairly stable," says Mr Burrow. &#42