6 September 2002

Potato prices about to rise

DESPITE fears that a large surplus of European potatoes would depress UK markets, prices could be about to rise.

At a recent meeting in Lille in France, attended by representatives from the EUs five main potato producing countries, it emerged that the crops are not likely to be as large or as good quality as originally forecast.

"The message was dont make too many assumptions about the coming season because there are a lot of factors that have come into play," says the BPCs Rob Burrow.

Planting estimates are similar to 2001, but yields are lower than expected. Wet weather is also likely to have a significant impact. "There are going to be some big losses because a lot of crops arent going to be lifted," says Mr Burrow. Quality problems could also lead to higher wastage and storage losses.

Prices have been very low for the early processing crops, with reports of some continental growers giving their potatoes away for free. Belgian processing varieties are worth about £10/t, compared with UK produce at about £30/t.

However, this price gap is not wide enough to attract imports, and UK processors already have plenty of potatoes on contract.

Exports from the UK are also underway, which, along with increased storage, should tighten supplies, says Mr Burrow. "Prices are still low, but as we see an increase in maincrop lifting and movement to storage we could see some improvement in value." &#42