Due to significant precipitation in recent weeks, there are still many potatoes to be harvested in the NEPG countries – Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and France. The North-Western Potato Growers (NEPG) says in a press release the harvesting period was too short for all potatoes to be harvested and stored under good conditions this season.
The NEPG points out that contracts for the upcoming season must take into account increased risks and costs incurred by potato farmers. The availability of seed potatoes is becoming a problem and a concern for Spring 2024.
After a relatively wet second half of the summer, potato yields have generally been good. An average yield of 45,8 t/ha was achieved in the EU-4 countries, representing a 6,3% increase compared to last year. Considering the increase in cultivated area, the total production of the EU-4 is estimated at 23,6 million tonnes (22,9 million tonnes in 2021, a somewhat comparable year).
Currently, about 22,2 million tonnes seem to have been harvested. Therefore, approximately 1,4 million tonnes remain in the fields. The NEPG does not comment on the quantity that will still be harvested, but a part of the crop is definitely lost.
October’s bad weather interrupted harvest activities after only three weeks. By mid-November, up to 250 mm of rain was recorded in different regions, leading to floods or water-saturated lands. Northern France, Western Belgium, and the coastal regions of the Netherlands were the most affected. Most of the remaining harvestable areas are in the Netherlands (15%) and Belgium (11%). The costs incurred (harvesting, washing, drying, and storage) are significantly higher than normal.
The 2023 season reminds us that potato production is becoming increasingly difficult, risky, costly, and stressful, says the NEPG. Late spring and early summer weather conditions (i.e., dry and hot) were typical of “climate change.” The heavy rains of late summer and autumn have again shown what weather conditions are becoming nowadays. Contracts for the upcoming season must take into account these risks.
Major Concerns and Rising Prices
Producers are worried about their unharvested areas. Indeed, some potatoes are not harvestable. Potatoes that remain in anaerobic conditions may rot. Those that are harvested may have quality issues and may not be stored eventually. Some contracts will not be delivered.
Difficult harvesting conditions obviously influence the free market. After a short period of surplus supply, we now find ourselves in a situation of reduced availability. Within a few weeks, free market prices have risen from 8 € to 20 € per 100kg. The demand for healthy and dry potatoes is high for both industry and export. The coming weeks will show how many potatoes can still be harvested. There may be a temporary offer of wet lots. But there is no reason for prices to drop in the long term. Early delivery of contracts could even lead to long-term shortages (Spring 2024).
Concerns Regarding Seed Availability
In seed production, there are fewer hectares (66% less compared to 2022), fewer tubers, and larger tubers than usual in the Benelux, France, Germany, Denmark, and Scotland. Higher downgrading of seed will lead to a reduction of about 20% in seed availability for 2024. Potato seed producers should be the first to benefit from the announced price increases for seed.