By Robert Harris
SEED potato prices have doubled in the past few months as supplies tighten following the worst lifting season for years.
“There is little difference in price between controlled and free-market varieties,” says Peter Patrick of Beesons. “Nearly everything is fetching £350-450/t – there is an enormous shortage, and its getting quite worrying.”
Prices are likely to stay firm, he adds. “There may not be enough seed to go round. About 30-40% is still to be bought.”
Growers already grading out their own seed may have to grade harder, and even cut some seed, though after this season there are obvious health risks, he adds. “There are a number of options – but they are not all good options.”
The main problem is an acute shortage of Dutch seed – about 180,000t has been written off, says Mr Patrick.
Popular varieties like Marfona, Estima and Premier are desperately short, agrees Ron Reiss of seed supplier Agrico, which imports about 80% of the UKs Dutch seed requirements. The company has written off 15% of its crop, about 1800ha.
In Scotland, the position is better, though 5% of Agricos crop is now useless and yields were down.
The company stopped taking orders some weeks ago to be sure of meeting those on the books. “We are on course to meet orders, though it wont be an easy ride,” says Mr Reiss. “But there is no chance of a surplus coming back into the market.”
An “horrific” commodity market has developed, he adds. “I have heard of some varieties at up to £500/t.”
Ian Stirling of free-trade supplier WCF is more hopeful. Many seed growers busy grading the rush of pre-Christmas deliveries have been reluctant to part with extra tonnage, he explains.
“When they take stock of whats left, more could be released from mid-January onwards.” However, that is unlikely to impact on prices – seed growers who received £150-180/t for free market varieties a few months ago are now getting £230-300/t, he adds. Bags, haulage and commission mean buyers will pay about £50/t more.