By FWi staff

WET weather has hit British potato crops, decreasing supplies and raising prices.

The British Potato Councils first estimate of the total 1998 crop was announced this week, forecasting the crop at 6.256 million tonnes, compared to 6.853 million tonnes in 1997.

With fewer potatoes on the market, UK prices have doubled both at the farm gate and on the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange.

Prices vary between £60-£250/tonne, with the BPC weekly GB ex-farm average price now at £140.93/tonne. This compares with a price of £71.31 last year and £51.51 in 1996.

McCain Foods, the brand-name frozen-foods producer, has reported difficulties sourcing quality potatoes, and expects to see a cut in margins.

Analysts have predicted futures prices to remain high due to the delay in the potato market and the lower yields experienced.

As at 20 November, the BPC estimated that there were some 13,000ha still to be lifted, representing a potential 585,000 tonnes at the national maincrop yield of 54.1t/ha.

The situation looks as if it could continue, as crops still in the ground could be severely hit by the recent poor weather conditions. “And some crops may have to overwinter,” said a spokesman from the BPC.

“If any of the currently unlifted crop cannot be harvested, this will reduce the current total production estimate of 6.256 million tonnes.”