30 October 1998

Weather sends spud futures to a two-year high

By Robert Harris

POTATO futures surged ahead this week, to hit a two-year high of £254/t for April on Monday as the effect of poor weather on lifting conditions influenced traders.

But those involved in physical markets remained more confident that, given a dry spell, the crop could still be safely in store by late November.

"It just backs my opinion that we should see a reasonable trade all the way through," says Simon Pinfield of Norfolk-based Anglian Produce.

Recent wet weather has seen prices for good pre-pack Cara move up £10-15/t to £140-170/t, he reports.

Steve Cummins, of Branston Potatoes, Lincs, reckons prices have risen by £20-30/t for top grade supermarket packing material due to rain, creating an £80-100/t premium over grade 2 packing and processing material. "Once growers get going again, prices are likely to come back to about £160/t."

That sort of price should be achievable for the foreseeable future, he reckons. "Its been in place for a couple of months now."

The British Potato Council reports ex-farm prices averaging £117.07/t to last Friday. Deduct all processing purchases, and the average price is almost exactly twice last years level of £64.87/t.

Producers should expect even wider price ranges than last year, says the BPCs Rob Burrow. "We are seeing some crops, suspect for storage purposes, being off-loaded onto the market. And potatoes left in the ground are not going to improve. So supplies at the poor end of the market are likely to be plentiful."

Good quality will be worth good money, he predicts. "It is important to monitor crops in store, even more so than last year."

On the processing front, average price ex bags was up slightly to £84.86p/t. Spot prices range from £50-75/t for poor Estima, Morene and Record, with Piper at £65-95/t. Crisping purchases are limited, achieving £50-95/t.

Last weeks clearance was put at 13,345ha (33,896 acres), bringing the cumulative total to 90,791ha (230,609 acres), or 65% of the crop. Only 1993 was slower when 60% of the crop had been cleared by the same time, says Mr Burrow. Wastage averaging 12%, as 1997.