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Challenging times for European potato growers: NEPG reports significant losses and uncertain future

The North-Western European Potato Growers (NEPG) released a concerning report today, detailing the struggles faced by potato growers in the 2023 season, marked by adverse weather conditions, high disease pressure, and escalating costs. The report highlights a significant loss in the potato crop, with an estimated 11,000 hectares written off and a minimum of 650,000 tonnes lost, either in fields or post-harvest.

Despite these challenges, the global potato harvest reached 22.7 million tonnes, a 5.1% increase compared to 2022 and nearly on par with the five-year average. This figure includes the estimated in-field losses in NEPG countries. The total area of potato production expanded to 519,583 hectares, up 2.0% from the previous year. The average stored yields in the NEPG zone were 43.7 tonnes per hectare, showing a 1.4% increase from 2022.

However, the situation varied across countries. The Netherlands, for instance, saw a decrease in yields, hectarage, and overall production in 2023 compared to the previous year. In contrast, Belgium experienced an 18% increase in global production, thanks to a 7.9% increase in area and better yields per hectare, despite significant losses suffered by many farmers.

The rising production costs and increasing risks are causing concern among growers. The critical question now is how much area should be planted under these market conditions, as better contract conditions do not seem to offset the higher production costs and greater risks. Additionally, many fields have been damaged and compacted due to an extremely wet autumn.

Another pressing issue is the shortage of certified seed potatoes. The availability of popular varieties remains uncertain, and it is expected that the seeds will be expensive, raising concerns about seed quality. Seed traders are likely to be selective in choosing their customers, linking seed availability to contracts. This situation could lead to a predominance of chitted seed, especially in medium sizes (45-55 mm), which is unusual. The impact of more chitted seed on emergence, stem numbers per hectare, and overall production could potentially affect yields. The scarcity of seed and its linkage to contracts also means there will be fewer free-buy potatoes available.

On the flip side, the processing industry continues to have a strong demand for increased potato production. This scenario presents a challenge for growers to contract sufficient acreage to meet the industry’s needs. Growers recognize the necessity for a higher risk premium than before, given the current uncertainties and challenges.

In summary, the NEPG report paints a picture of a sector under strain, grappling with losses, rising costs, and uncertain futures. Potato growers are facing a critical period, balancing the need to meet industry demands with the challenges of an increasingly difficult growing environment.

Source: North-Western European Potato Growers (NEPG)

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