31 October 1997

Seed potato sales are only 20% normal level

POTATO seed merchants are shell shocked at the dearth of orders from growers hit by low ware prices. But price cuts to boost trade seem unlikely, particularly on controlled varieties.

"The confidence just isnt there," says Frank Philpott, seed manager for MBM Shropshire.

So far seed sales stand at just 20% of total, compared with 75% last year, estimates Andy Pumfrey of breeder PBIC.

Mr Philpott blames the inflexible marketing of controlled varieties which normally account for half the UK ware crop. "There has to be a significant review of the current price structure to bring prices more in line with what producers can afford to pay."

Merchants are increasingly reluctant to buy early at a fixed price, he adds. Many lost money last season paying £300/t early, only to see the same product selling at £100/t in March.

Stuart Richardson, managing director of the East Lothian-based SE Growers seed producers co-op admits seed sales are slow.

Prices of controlled varieties are at least 10% lower than last year, but further reductions are most unlikely, he says. "All controllers, to the very best of my knowledge, are sticking with their issued prices.

"My primary responsibility is to our seed growers. We would love to show more flexibility to help our customers. But we have no intention whatsoever of dropping prices."

At least 3000t of SEs seed has already gone to non-seed outlets to underpin the price, he adds.

Spokesman for Dutch seed potato supplier Agrico, Ross Haynes admits trade is currently very slow with 10t rather than 100t being the typical order. Prices for the firms varieties, all controlled, are down on last season by £40-50/t.

"This year, with the strong £, the Dutch material is considerably cheaper." But there is very limited scope to trim them further, he maintains.

"We are not prepared to reduce prices – the market could go stronger."

The acreage is down and we might not have the over-supply some people think."

The idea that seed and ware prices should be linked is soon forgotten in a strong ware market, adds Mr Pumfrey. "The formula disappears in a hurry when ware is £200/t."

SEED POTATOES.

&#8226 Sluggish trade – under 20% sold so far, 75% usually.

&#8226 Inflexible pricing of controlled varieties blamed.

&#8226 Sucking in Dutch imports.

&#8226 Scope for risk share scheme?