The coronavirus has disrupted the global potato market like no other single event before it, but there are some signs things settling at least a new normal, according to Cedric Porter, editor of World Potato Markets.
Up until February this year the global potato market was about as normal a season as it could have been. Demand and supply were more or less in balance in Europe, although stocks were a little tighter in North America. Countries across the world continued to demand more potato products.
But the bombshell of coronavirus changed everything. Demand for potatoes and frozen product may have soared at home, but the closure of restaurants around the world showed how dependent on out-of-home sales the industry was. Stocks in cold-stores started to back up and growers with uncommitted stocks of processing potatoes and even some with contracts, were left with full barns.
It was inevitable that while growers of table potatoes would not reduce planting, processing potato growers would prompted by processors slashing their contracts for the 2020 crop. The processing area is likely to be down by at least 10% in the US, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands.
March trade figures show that trade in frozen potato products did hold up surprisingly well but subsequent months are expected to show a big decline. However, with restaurants starting to reopen across the world, trade should start to rebuild from June onwards.
The fortunes of the potato industry over the coming year will not only depend on a return to some sense of normality, but the vagaries of the weather. Conditions are often more reliable in North America where snow melt and irrigation provide enough water for growing plans, but they are more variable in Europe.
One of the wettest winters on records is being followed by one of the driest springs and the combination of low yields could leave the continent short of potatoes and firm prices up over coming months.
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