Spud prices bounce back to July levels

By Robert Harris

POTATO prices have hit a four-month high, bouncing back to levels not seen since July.

Concern over the effect of recent frosts and wet weather on unlifted crops pushed the weekly average price to just below £141/t at the end of last week. This marks a 23% climb from the October low point, and is double last years figure.

That average masks a huge range, with a £190/t difference between best and poorest samples. “Quality supplies remain tight with growers reluctant to move sound, dry stocks too quickly,” says Rob Burrow of the British Potato Council.

Good-quality pre-pack bulk potatoes are worth £160-£200/t, Grade 1 Piper and Cara up to £250/t, says Mr Burrow. Top whites can fetch £230/t; grade 2 supplies are worth half as much.

Spot processing prices are climbing. Piper ranges between £65 and £150/t. Crisping varieties are valued at £80-£90/t.

Some sun meant 7200ha were cleared last week, and 91% of the crop has now been harvested. Despite that, London April potato futures hit £300/t midweek. “Its a knee-jerk reaction,” says David Alvis of Anglian Produce.

“We could see prices creep up between now and the new year. It is too early to call from there on out.”

Problems in Europe are driving bullish sentiment. Of the several countries hit by wet weather, Holland is suffering most. Incessant rain has flooded polders and by mid-November almost 50,000ha remained in the ground, 20% of which has been written off.

Certain seed varieties are becoming scarce, says colleague Steve Crane. Farmers still to order may not get their first choice.

Supplies of Dutch Premier, Fambo and Minerva, and Scottish Rocket are 20-35% down on normal. Prices are rising fast; some 35-55mm Piper for pre-Christmas delivery is valued in the low £300s/t, and Estima off merchants books, is fetching £350-£450/t, £100-£200 more than last year.

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