UK: wet weather causes havoc for potatoes

Planting of potatoes is almost complete in England and Wales but, in Scotland, there are still large areas to set.

A British Potato Council spokesman said that, in Scotland, very little progress had been possible over the last two weeks due to continuous wet weather. "Some growers managed to get a couple of days planting at the start of last week but, for most, soils are too heavy to work following up to 80mm of rain the previous week.

"Many are reporting this current break in activity is the longest they can remember. Some seed producers have finished but many report up to four good days' planting still to do once the land has had time to dry out. There are also a few reports of non-emergence in early planted crops which were set in cold soils."

Looking at the 2005 early markets, the spokesman said that orders from Wholesale markets were slow in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire while, in the east, limited movement was in balance with demand.

"Nevertheless, prices continued to fall with the overall average price of earlies down to £276/tonne last week compared with £360 in the same week last year. Regional price, however, varied from bagged material at £120-£140/tonne in Cornwall (according to size and appearance of sample rather than variety) up to £340-£360/tonne for Bard and Javelin in East Anglia and £440-£480 for Rocket and Epicure south west Scotland," he said.

"Some regions have increased movement more rapidly this season than last with total movement to June 2 remaining higher than last year at an estimated 8,600 tonnes compared with 6,400 tonnes in 2004.

"Total clearance is estimated at 543 hectares up to June 2, compared with 435 hectares last year. Early crops are bulking well with excellent quality reported for the increasing supplies available. The average yields for crops lifted last week was estimated at 17.2 tonnes/hectare compared with 16.1 tonnes/hectare last year)."

The spokesman said that, in Cornwall, early prices remained under pressure as traders attempted to encourage demand from markets already well-supplied with 2004 maincrop and imports from Jersey and many Mediterranean countries.

Rain on Sunday halted lifting on Monday but sufficient stocks remained with bag prices at £120/tonne, compared with £180-£200 last year. "Varieties are mainly Premiere, Riviere and Peer. There are also some tops from packing samples at slightly lower values. Bulk demand is steady, mainly from contracts. Crops will benefit from the weekend rain as conditions remain dry, although some have already been burnt off to restrict tuber size. Bulking is increasing with yields 18-30 tonnes/hectare compared with 18-28 tonnes/hectare last year."

The spokesman said that, in Devon, token lifting continued with prices steady at £300/tonne for local deliveries. "In Pembrokeshire, harvesting was restricted by wet weather at the end of last week and the start of this week. Bag supplies are limited, although prices have still eased to £150/t for Premiere and Minerva, in an attempt to encourage movement.

A few Rocket on Anglesey are making £220/tonne. In bulk, Lady Christl for loose flow are £180-£200/tonne. Salad Lady Christl, graded 42mm down, are steady at £300-£320/tonne. Recent rain will have benefited crops with yields estimated at 20-28 tonnes/hectare, compared with 17-25 tonnes/hectare last year.

"In Lincolnshire, volume remains light with growers lifting to order," the spokesman said. "Bag prices have eased, with Rocket from sand land £220, up to slit land at £240/tonne. Bard and Sceptre are £260-£280 with an odd £300/tonne for best slit Sceptre. Some rain fell last week but conditions remain dry with irrigation being used to bulk crops. Yields currently average 14 tonnes/hectare, compared with 20 tonnes/hectare last year.

"In Suffolk/Essex, prices have eased in spite of light volume lifted. In bags, Bard and Javelin are £280-£320/tonne with small lots up to £340/tonne. In bulk, salad Peer and Carlingford are increasing in volume. Most are on contract but a few spot sales are £350-£370/tonne wholecrop. Small Bard and Peer are £350/tonne.

"In Kent, supplies are increasing slowlybut prices are falling due to lack of orders. Prices, mainly Riviere, are £280-£300/tonne. Bulk loads are from contract," he added. "In Cheshire, lifting continues, but bag supplies are light, at £300-£320/tonne for local sales and £280/tonne to Wholesale markets, mainly Accord, Bard and Sceptre. In Shropshire, bags are £280/tonne but limited.

"In south west Scotland, persistent rain last week limited harvesting but supplies remained adequate for demand. Better conditions on Monday, with bag prices for Rocket and Epicure down to £250-£300/tonne but some local sales slightly more. In boxes, Rocket are £260-£300/tonne. Crops require more heat with yields still 10-12 tonnes/hectare and of good quality."