High demand bodes well for UK new-crop potatoes

By Robert Harris

NEW-CROP potato prices are holding up well which, together with reasonable yields, is producing decent returns after two poor years.

Demand is high, and supermarkets are switching to the crop at least two weeks earlier than normal, mainly due to a poorer-quality Jersey crop. Tesco sourced its first Cornish supplies around Easter.

Midweek, prices ranged from £380-£420/ t, higher for some local sales, depending on sample and variety, British Potato Council field managers report.

Yields generally range between 12 and 17 t/ha (4.8 and 6.9t/acre). In Pembrokeshire, about 15% of the 400-acre crop had been lifted by Wednesday.

“Some crops are yielding up to 8 t/ha. It costs about £1600/acre to grow the crop, so growers are making reasonable profits,” says Gavin Robinson.

In Cornwall, about a quarter of the crop had been lifted by the same time. “Yields have been slow to improve, only picking up in the past week or so with the higher temperatures,” says John Harris.

Like Pembrokeshire, some damage was caused during the Easter week, slowing growth. But the Jersey crop seems to have been harder hit.

Yields and quality are down. Daily liftings approach 1000 t, but are unlikely to rise. Exports were about 17,000 t this week, over a third down on this time last year. Total output is now expected to be 45,000 t at best, compared with 57,000 t in 1997.

Puffin packers
New Pembrokeshire potatoes in the Puffin Groups packing factory at Haverfordwest

Maincrop stocks are shortening rapidly, adding to new-crop demand. And the five-week delay in planting in most parts of the country means the first earlies season is likely to last longer than normal, even though other areas like Kent, Cheshire and Suffolk have started to lift.

Maincrop planting continues apace as growers strive to make up for lost time. By Wednesday, about 120,000ha had been planted, and most crops should be in by the end of the month.

The delay could hold back bulking. “It will give the old maincrop a chance to clear, and should keep prices fairly strong, giving this years maincrop a good start,” says Rob Burrow, British Potato Council information manager.

  • Bulk supplies of baking, packing and frying stocks are achieving high prices as the maincrop season ends on a high note. Hard-to-find best baking samples are making £250-£300/ t, and most Grade 1 samples £150-£200. Main trade is taking place at £100-£150/ t, and even poor material from ambient stores is worth from £50/ t, says the BPC.

  • For this and other stories, see Farmers Weekly, 22-28 April, 1998
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