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Global overview: Low potato harvest and high prices expected in Western Europe, historically high prices in North America

Most European countries are experiencing a shortage of potatoes due to the cool spring and dry summer, the consequences of the increase in the price of nitrogen fertilizers last year, and the low profitability of potato growing in previous years, according to an extensive market overview published by FreshPlaza.

In the Netherlands, weather conditions are again playing a role in this year’s potato harvest. After a long dry period, last week’s rain could, under otherwise optimal growing conditions, still provide some more volume. Still, the first trial harvests are not hopeful: as it stands, yields are below the 2018 harvest, which at the time was lower than the multi-year average. 

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming Belgian potato season. The problems in spring and the difficult conditions now that harvesting has slowly started are affecting yields. “It is now a question of whether nature can recover itself or whether we will continue the season in this trend. Under normal conditions, everything is uprooted by the end of October. However, we have only just started now,” says a Belgian packer.

A wholesaler from North Germany says that the extremely high price level for potatoes continues, which has not happened for a long time. At the start of the season large calibres were missing, because of the missing rainfall. Food retailers in North Germany bought high amounts of potatoes, which meant that the goods were cleared quickly. Retailers as well as the processing industry offered growers significantly more money, which is why the wholesale business was tempered to some extent in the beginning, according to the expert. Furthermore, the supply of imported goods was also quite tight this year. Because of the holiday season, the demand is subdued as usual. However, he notices that more people are going abroad this year, so that the demand is even lower than in the years before

The French market continues to suffer from the effects of the 2022 production shortfall as the seasons overlap. Although all acreage in France is now in production, demand still exceeds supply, the market is tight and prices are not easing. The French market is experiencing an unprecedented situation this summer, with Spanish potatoes being imported to meet the needs of the processing sector, which has developed well in recent years.

The UK potato sector has been going through a better spell this year, but it did take a long time for the potato shortage to feed back to growers as there was still crop from the previous year on the market and the prices didn’t increase until around mid-May. Volumes were low and towards the end of the season good quality potatoes were hard to find. The better prices at the end of last season may be sustained through the winter as there has been a reduction in planting in both 2022 and 2023.

At the moment the growing conditions in Scotland for both ware and seed potatoes are looking positive, after a very dry May and June there was plenty of rain in July. The main harvest will start in September in Scotland. Although prices have been better this year, inflation has taken away profit growers might have had.

Seed growers have not fared any better, growers lost a huge part of their export market when the European market was closed to them after Brexit, and to add insult to injury European seed growers found a loophole which allowed them to send seed to the UK. British growers had already started to grow varieties to fill the gap which they expected to emerge when there were no European seed potatoes on the market.

In Spain, the potato harvest has already started throughout Castilla y León. “In fact, we already have 20% of the harvest completed in the region,” explains a potato sector representative. “The season started early, at the beginning of July and even in some areas at the end of June. There were some moments of uncertainty because when it started there were still potatoes from Andalusia, Murcia or Levante, but to our surprise exports were opened and both France, Belgium and the Netherlands have swept away the early varieties, so that at the moment the market is even, with a certain lack of product and prices go up,”

In South Africa, potato volumes and potato sales have started to increase on the market but volumes are 7% lower than last year. Potato prices have been exceptionally high, reckoned to be 78% higher than last year by AMTrends, a market analyst.

In China, this 2022/23 potato season is witnessing an increase in production areas in the north and south (for winter production) and on China’s Central Plains. The Central Plains produce potatoes in the months of May to July. Here, overall production was slightly lower this year due to cold weather conditions in the winter months. This has set a higher potato price level in the first half of the year.

Potato supply in North America is about to see a marked shift given the new crop has already begun in some regions. Regionally, Delaware, Minnesota, Quebec are underway with production while Idaho, Washington, North Dakota, Massachusetts, the Eastern Canadian provinces are all about to begin.

“I’m hearing there’s going to be a large, good crop in the West and on the East Coast, with a few exceptions, there’ve been pretty good growing conditions. We could have a very large crop of potatoes,” says one shipper.

Meanwhile demand has been good, even with the fact that potatoes have seen historically high prices all season. It’s expected that with more available supply, pricing will likely be lower and demand could possibly pick up.

Source: FreshPlaza. Read the full report here

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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