Premium for top quality spuds as rain hits harvest

Potato prices have continued to slide due to pressured sales of suspect and wet loads, though good material is still worth decent money.

Latest Potato Council figures show the average GB free market value dropped by £11.55/t during the week ending 24 September, settling at £144.22/t. At the beginning of the month, the figure stood at just over £170/t.

However, prices are still well above year-ago levels, when a tonne of free-buy tubers averaged £85.35/t.

“This season has been later for burn-off before storage, with growers waiting for crops to bulk, to gain yield and achieve skin-set,” said AHDB senior analyst Jim Davies.

“The area is also slightly lower this season, with lack of tuber size in some crops, but quality is good.” Supplies should be adequate, he added.

Most packers had been concentrating on contracted and committed supplies, limiting free market interest. Best stocks were now being loaded into store, but suspect and wet crops continued to pressurise prices, especially of poorer whites. Value pack material was generally worth £90-105/t.

King Edwards were typically worth £230-240/t, more for best samples, while best quality reds sold at £170-180 upwards. Best Estima were fetching £150-180/t, while general pack with low baker content was trading at £150-160/t. Scottish Piper was worth similar money.

Baker supplies were sufficient but tightening as growers concentrated on loading stores. Estima was worth £220/t in Herefordshire, while best high baker content whole-crop was priced at £160-165/t.

Supplies of bagged frying potatoes were reported as adequate, though best samples were also heading for stores. In the east, Piper was typically worth £140-150/t, perhaps a bit more in the south, while in the west prices firmed to £130/t.

Growers had lifted 46,000ha of potatoes by the 24 September, or 36% of the total crop area. That compares with 59,800ha (46%) at the same time last year.

Progress was reported as good in the south – although rain stopped work in the south west, the south east was less affected. Most areas were just one or two weeks behind last year.

Harvesting in the east, interrupted by rain last week, was expected to accelerate. Loading to store was also increasing in the west, especially Herefordshire, where soil conditions remained good despite recent heavy rain.

Rain also affected the Scottish harvest, particularly the north east.