The European potato industry has faced an unprecedented year of highs and lows, according to Raiffeisen’s CEO, Ferdi Buffen, who opened the 33rd Weuthen Potato Day in Germany recently.
He described the year 2023 as an “unimaginable roller coaster ride,” with extreme weather conditions, fluctuating prices, and supply chain disruptions shaking the sector to its core.
“The mood is currently cloudy,” he said, “at least in the processing sector, for short-term deliveries. In our
opinion, this has only to do with the current emotional situation, but nothing to do with the
fundamental data from acreage, yield potential and quality expectations.”
Mr. Buffen said that industrial potato prices soared to over €50 per 100 kg, only to plummet within four weeks to €17.50. Imports from countries like Egypt, Spain, and Portugal have been necessary to meet the demand for french fries and chips.
A wet spring led to historically low trial harvests in July, followed by extreme droughts in southern Europe. However, since August, the weather has been more favorable, albeit with instances of hail and flooding causing quality issues.
The processing industry, which set attractive contract prices as early as November 2022, has been unable to operate at full capacity due to raw material shortages.
Despite these challenges, Mr. Buffen assures that they have met all their delivery agreements with European customers, attributing their success to their efficient farmers and employees.
Mr. Buffen also touched on the future, stating that the European seed potato trading companies are adapting to both climatic and political conditions. This year’s seed potato availability will influence planting for 2024, he said.
The demand for reliable raw material will continue to grow. Forecasts of 4% per year have so far
always been exceeded.
However, European processors are increasingly facing global competition. It is not only North
America that is competing for the world market. Factories are also being built in China, India and
South America with the aim of exporting to the growth markets.
For those in the industry, the year has been a test of resilience, adaptability, and innovation, Mr. Buffen said. And as the saying goes, “In extreme years, the wheat is separated from the chaff.”