By Olivia Cooper

POTATO plantings are 3.1% above last years figure, according to the British Potato Councils first estimate.

The total area of 149,612ha (369,542 acres) is slightly above the five-year average, and should go some way towards offsetting this years lower yields.

Early varieties have averaged 31.5t/ha (12.8t/ac), 14% down on last year, says the BPC. But yield and quality are extremely varied depending on planting date and localised weather.

“Lower yields in the UK and Europe could push the price up later in the season,” says market information manager Rob Burrow.

“But supplies could still exceed last year, as 3-500,000t of produce were not harvested in 2000 due to the wet autumn,” he adds.

Paul Coleman, technical group manager for potato merchant Greenvale AP, thinks that supply and demand will be more evenly balanced this season.

“Yields of second early varieties, like Marfona and Estima, were below expectations, and so far later varieties, like Maris Piper, Cara and Nadine, show slow maturity and low tuber numbers.

“But if they get the 4-6 weeks growth that are needed, it could lift the yield average.”

Yields are also reported to be lower in Europe, and German plantings are a provisional 8.2% down on 2000.

“Interest has been lower this season, indicating that UK imports will be well below last year,” says Mr Coleman.

Recent hot and humid weather has caused some Black Dot and Silver Scurf disease, on top of widespread Common Scab brought about by the lack of rain earlier in the season.

“The variable quality could create a two-tier market in the packing and frying sectors, with decent quality spuds commanding a premium,” says Mr Coleman.

Packing varieties in the south-east are fetching 80-110/t, with top frying samples reaching 120/t in the east.