By FW staff

POTATOES are worth almost £100/ t more on average than this time last year, according to latest figures from the British Potato Council.

The price jumped almost £17/ t by the end of last week to a four-year high of £143.09, says Rob Burrow of the BPC. The planting gap back in April between first earlies and follow-on crops has affected overall supplies.

In addition, many growers are concentrating on cereal harvest. Daily movement this July has exceeded 10,000 t only six times, compared with 17 times last year. In the last week of the month, 12-13,000 t a day were being lifted, about 2000 t below normal.

The planting gap, coupled with lower yields and the 2% fall in planting area, is likely to keep a lid on output until storage starts, and should maintain three-figure average prices during that time, says Mr Burrow.

Cold, wet weather during the past few weeks has suppressed yield. Current range is 20-50 t/ha averaging 36.5 t/ha, down almost 9% on last year. In Scotland, the first Kerrs Pink are being lifted, and in Lincolnshire some Ambo and Maris Piper are being harvested. More bakers are being cleared, but skins are taking longer to set.

Overall price range remains at £80-240/ t. Biggest movers are chip samples, ranging from £130-180/ t, though packing material also gained, to make £120-170/ t, with best samples worth £190/ t. Bakers eased to £180-240/ t as availability increased.

Despite the unhelpful exchange rate, 360 t of potatoes were exported last week, bringing the total since June 1 to 6767 t, compared with 8243 t last year.

Quality remains the big questionmark. Most crops are now making good top growth, but tuber numbers appear low in some regions, especially the Midlands and Scotland. And effects of blight on storage later in the season is being questioned. “But the forecast is better. A sunny August would help enormously, and a dry harvest would set minds at rest for the winter,” says Mr Burrow.

  • For this and other stories, see Farmers Weekly, 7-13 August, 1998
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