By Olivia Cooper
POTATO plantings were severely delayed this year following the wettest autumn on record.
And the continuing bad weather resulted in a late harvest and variable quality, with high levels of waste.
Although the 2001 harvest was delayed, retailers were slow to take up demand because they were using imported produce.
The British Potato Council average price fell from 164/tonne in May, to bottom out at 76/tonne in November.
Prices have started to climb again now lifting is all but complete and the better stocks are locked away in stores.
Production has been pegged at 6.4m tonnes – 7% up on last year, despite early yields being 20% below average.
This leaves the UK supply and demand fairly balanced.
The EU crop also suffered this year, with total production down about 4m tonnes, leaving the EU similarly balanced.
With prices and supply fairly even across Europe, imports will not get close to last years levels.
Quality problems like common scab and breakdown in store have been widespread and wastage is about 10% higher than normal, with Holland suffering up to 20% loss.
This has led to a wide price difference between the best and secondary produce, with a considerable premium payable for top quality packing and frying varieties.
Best Maris Piper in the UK are sought after at 160-180/tonne, while secondary material is hard to sell at just 25/tonne.
Those producers storing good quality tubers are loath to sell at current prices, and premiums are likely to widen.
Where values go from here depends on how farmers market their crops for the rest of the season. With the storage problems that have occurred, a large tonnage was sold earlier than expected.
This could leave the end of the season quite tight, as long as growers market steadily each month.
But if farmers wait for the end-of-season price hike they could be disappointed, as a big tonnage will come on to the market at one time, depressing prices.
- To view price trend for potatoes click here