Potato growers should rethink speculative planting

Potato growers were urged to reconsider planting outside of contracts, as the GB weekly free-buy potato price hit just £131/t in the week ending 25 July.

This was nearly £106/t less than the same week last year, according to figures from the Potato Council.

Meanwhile, those on contracts were faring better, as indicated by the weekly GB average price (free-buy and contract trade), which was £69/t lower than the same week last year at £161/t.

A carryover of old stock, an earlier harvest, good growing conditions and a weak fresh potatoes market had combined to create a supply and demand imbalance, said Rob Clayton, director of the Potato Council.

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While returns from contracts and the free buy market tended to even out over a 10-year period, now was a good time to reflect on cropping and contractual options, he said.

“Have you got a market to go to given the lower demand in the fresh market? Reflect on speculative planting – this year is a good lesson in why it doesn’t work.

“Take the longer term view about the market, speculation and what to do with marginal land [in relation to the three-crop rule].”

The market would now largely depend on the weather, said Mr Clayton.

Growers without irrigation were likely to have reached the limits with their crops, while the warm and humid conditions were creating perfect opportunities for blight.

This could lead to a four-tier market, divided between those with and without irrigation and those with and without blight.

About 80% of growers had some sort of contractual agreement for at least part of their crop, giving them a degree of protection, said Mr Clayton.