21 November 1997

Potatoes rising in Xmas run-up

HIGHER prices are being forced at the quality end of the potato market because of lower offerings of produce from farms.

And the run-up to Christmas is expected to see a further rise, because of better demand and the many growers with reasonable quality stocks who are determined to keep store doors closed until the New Year.

In the week ended Nov 14, average ex farm prices nudged over the £70/t mark for the first time this season, following a slow climb since mid-August. The range of prices however, remained the same, from £20 to £140/t ex farm.

First estimates by the British Potato Council put the 1997 crop at 7.027m tonnes against 6.941m tonnes last year. The big question now is over wastage, which has been measured so far at 2% higher than last year, with greening, disease and mechanical damage all contributing.

Bacterial rots, blackleg, blight and pink rot are all affecting keeping quality this season, says the BPC. Quantity will not be short, but the new year will see stronger interest in quality stocks, it predicts.

Mike Richards of Greenvale Produce agrees. "Key cosmetic factors will be vital," he says. "People, after all, buy with their eyes. There has been no easing of supermarkets rigid standards. We are having to look longer and harder for the material we need."

At Pocklington-based pre-packer East Riding Farm Produce, trader John Knight thinks there is more material in store than for many years. "Personally I think that the people who want to sit it out may look back and find that the good times were now," he says. &#42