The North-western European Potato Growers (NEPG) says in a press release that the foodservice demand for potato products in Europe has dropped by 50 to 60%, and the export markets have lost its potential as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
It says the global potato processing industry has reduced production capacity everywhere, and a need for raw material is down compared to normal levels. More than 2 million tons of raw product will most likely not be processed in Europe – and that figure is for the 5 NEPG countries only.
NEPG points out that between 70 to 80% of all raw material needed for processing in Europe is contracted. A large part of these potatoes and the free potatoes in the stores will not be processed as planned, and the sector will have to find other outlets for its products.
So far, processing factories have respected contracts with growers and always received potatoes at contracted price. Nevertheless, more than 2 million tons this year will probably find no buyer, and some will go for cattle and animal feed, biogas or bioethanol production.
NEPG says this is the first time in recent history that processors have to back down on contracts. It was mostly growers who was in a predicament to supply contracted volume and quality during years where yields were down.
The world is upside down, the NEPG says in its press release.
In all NEPG countries, the demand from retail has increased both for fresh table potatoes and products. Also, the export of fresh potatoes is at a medium high level (some difficulties to find enough trucks and drivers). However, this extra demand is not enough to consume all of the remaining harvested volume of 2019. And not all varieties are suitable to be used as fresh table potatoes or exports. The NEPG estimates that only on the continent there will be more than 2 million tons of non-processed potatoes at the end of the season.
Not only the growers and processing industry have enormous financial challenges, but the question arises on what to do with all these good quality potatoes in a sustainable way?
NEPG points out that processors has requested growers to store their potatoes as long as possible, which implies more costs (antisprouting products, energy for ventilating and cooling), so these potatoes could be processed up to the end of August.
This is an exceptionally long storage period, and a challenge and risk for growers. Normally during July, the processors will start to change over to the new early processing crops from Belgium and Germany. And again, these crops have to be “bulldozed” forward in time as well and will collide with the oncoming volumes of the main harvest in October.
Reduced planted area the only solution
As the cold stores for potato products are filled to the roof and with the question when the restaurants will open again (not to mention open air events where a lot of chips, frites or crisps are consumed), many fewer planted acres would have been the only solution.
However, at the time when COVID-19 hit, fields were already rented, seed potatoes were already bought or delivered, and the plantings started by the end of March, mostly too late to reduce the acreage enough, NEPG says.
Nevertheless, the organization is hopeful that the potato area in the 5 NEPG countries was in reality reduced by 5%, which isn’t enough to remedy the dire situation. However, as always, the growing conditions and final yields will determine the final harvest quantity. But the growing season has just started, and no estimate is possible at this time.
Photo: The Herald