31 December, 1997

By FW reporters

POTATO growers will start the new year with the prospect of higher prices than last season. But then again, they couldnt be much lower.

Ex-farm average values edged up during December to £75/ t. Although 41% higher than 1996, this is a far cry from two seasons ago when spuds were typically changing hands at £165/ t.

But the likelihood of over-supply will be eased during the first few months of 1998, with grading-out diverting as much as 20% of some packing samples for multiples into dumps or stock feed troughs.

This should help keep values above year-earlier levels, although a mild spring and with it the early arrival of new-crop varieties could put prices under pressure.

Quality issues are behind the big price variations and British Potato Council figures range between £25 and £160/ t. But any rise in the upper ceiling will be limited by the potential of imports.

Once again, the best crops in environmentally-controlled buildings will be a world away from the poorer ones in ambient stores.

But cashflow considerations may bring more samples on to the market early, with mixed farmers facing lower returns from lamb, beef and arable enterprises.

While wastage is currently high, this should fall as growers who have already sold the bottom end of the quality spectrum are left with their better samples.