Hard times for early spuds as imports pile in
By Olivia Cooper
EARLY potatoes have struggled to attract demand amid a clash with imported supplies, which has pushed prices down faster than normal, say traders.
The British Potato Councils average early price fell more than £250/t in the two weeks to May 23, to £327/t – £160/t below the same time last year. Early potatoes in Cornwall are now worth about £200/t, although prices have stabilised since wet weather delayed lifting.
Traders blame the poor demand on large volumes of imported potatoes, particularly from Mediterranean countries, which are running much later than usual after a very wet season. But shipments are now slowing down, with new potato imports at about 122,000t to May 17 compared with 137,000t last year.
The British crop is well ahead of last season, with almost 300ha (741 acres) cleared by May 23. Average yields are slightly down at about 12.5t/ha (5t/acre), although this is improving on a daily basis.
The wet weather is also to blame for the lack of demand from consumers, who are still buying last seasons maincrop potatoes. The BPCs Guy Gagen reckons a spell of good weather is needed to lift demand, increase supplies and encourage more multiples to move to domestic earlies.
Most supermarkets contacted by farmers weekly are stocking some British new potatoes, particularly in regional stores. And as more volume comes onto the market over the next 2-3 weeks, buying will increase, they say.
Mark Rowe, a potato farmer near Helston in Cornwall, is particularly pleased with demand from Tesco this year. "It is the highest we have ever had." He reckons growing interest in local food is behind the strong uptake, although he admits some other multiples and wholesalers have not been so forthcoming. "If all the other supermarkets did the same thing we would not have so many problems." *