By FWi staff

UK potato stocks at the end of Feb were 1.635m tonnes, 32% below the five-year average, according to latest estimates from the British Potato Council.

The figure reflects the lower planted area and a poor season which has been dogged by poor weather, says the BPCs Rob Burrow. “Yields have been reduced and the continued rain followed by frosts lead to a 25% increase in on-farm wastage on the year.

“Some 17,000ha of potatoes were still in the ground at the end of Feb, the highest ever recorded, and 9% above the five-year average. It is estimated that 50% of that will be harvested with yields reduced by 75%.”

Despite the high wastage availability has been maintained, mainly due to a five-fold increase in imports. At the end of Feb total imports stood at 210,500t, compared with the five-year average of 44,150t.

“However, the release of these figures had little impact on the market as they came as no surprise to the industry, and most packers had already covered themselves,” says Mr Burrow.

Imports still continue in sizeable volumes and total nearly 300,000t, compared with 30,000t a year ago.

“There are no signs of import supplies tightening which is keeping the lid on prices. However, certain sectors, especially at the quality end, are starting to get short.”

Prices for top quality special varieties, not replaceable by imports, have risen by 10-20/t over the last week, to average 340-360/t. Other high quality material is up to 250-300/t.

“Middle grade material is also up 5-10/t to 150-200/t, but availability is still good. At the lower end, buyers for freshly lifted material are difficult to find with values down to 50-100/t,” adds Mr Burrow.

The upward trend will continue reckons Mr Burrow, but by how much is difficult to predict.

“As supplies continue to tighten values will rise, but the message from the multiple customers is that they are reluctant to carry on this upward trend. It is a case of wait and see.”