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The global potato market is in for a very fluctuating year, according to the reports from across the globe, with generally high prices in many countries. The Netherlands is battling weather conditions affecting yields, while a thriving chip industry drives contract prices. Belgium grapples with an uncertain harvest due to adverse conditions, raising concerns over yields. The German market is feeling the effect of consumers holidaying abroad and therefore not buying on the local market. In France, a deficit from 2022 fuels demand surpassing supply, prompting imports and maintaining pricing resilience. The United Kingdom contends with inflation and Brexit aftermath, impacting profits despite favourable growing conditions. Italy sees quality compensating for lower yields, as Spain navigates a market constrained by supply. Meanwhile, China anticipates shifts in pricing trends as North America faces supply shifts with potential pricing improvements.

Netherlands: Little trade on potato market
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. And that with a potato area that is already under pressure because of measures around the nitrogen problem, such as the establishment of buffer zones. Incidentally, we hear from the market that there is little trade at the moment. What is positive, however, is the growing chip industry that needs raw material. It has caused contract prices to rise.

Belgium: Uncertain harvest for Belgian potatoes
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.

"This also makes it questionable whether there is enough time to develop the extra kilos on the plants for the other potatoes. After all, at some point they will have to get out of the ground anyway. We are not going to harvest in winter. We still have a long way to go, but we can already say almost with certainty that we are not going to see top yields."

Germany: Limited demand because of holidays
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. Due to the prolonged rains during the last weeks, growers were unable to use crop protection products to control pests, meaning delays are expected for the new crop. The harvest will like start at the end of August or early September. Besides that, he notices a higher demand for large calibres.

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. Given the sharp changes in weather, he said it is increasingly challenging to be able to supply good qualities and suitable sizes. At the moment, more raw potatoes are sold via wholesalers, because many farmers who generally market their produce directly are not able to, due to the weather, and also were not able to offer large calibres.

According to a federal ministry, the demand was rather limited due to the vacations. Dealers rarely had cause to modify their previous demands. In Berlin, domestic Berber became a little more expensive as a result of limited availability. Domestic offers prevailed. Supplies from Italy followed, but were represented in places only with residual stocks. Italian sienna appeared in Frankfurt: The long-oval and flavourful potato grows in red soil. Shipments from Spain and the Netherlands rounded off the range.

France: Demand outstrips supplies
The French market continues to suffer the consequences of the 2022 production deficit, with seasons overlapping one another. Although all the areas in France are now in production, demand is still outstripping supply, with a tight market and prices that are not easing.

This is due to a number of factors including a 2023 season that started with little or no stocks, a delay in 2023 planting due to weather conditions, of around twenty days in some major production areas, and growing demand from the industry, which is once again adding to demand.

To make up for this shortfall in volumes, 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.

Added to this is a rainy summer, with temperatures at times almost autumnal, leading to more consumption of potatoes than summer salads. The result of this tight supply is a market that is not softening in terms of pricing, with basic necessities still affordable.

At the moment, all production areas in France are active. Production will intensify over the coming weeks, with the first ware potatoes replenishing stocks. There are then two possible scenarios: favourable weather for production, which will make up for the shortage of potatoes until April/May, or unfavourable weather, which will have an impact on production and therefore put pressure on supply throughout the season.

UK: Potato profits hit by inflation and Brexit despite good growing conditions
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.

The new potato season started a couple of weeks ago in England and the new crop is looking good.

“The early potatoes have been affected by the drought earlier in the year, but we have good rain now and the later potatoes will be good. The yields are very variable just now, we are only a couple of weeks into the harvest and some areas are good while others are not so good," said one grower.

The potatoes are being harvested in East Anglia where the soil types are versatile and harvest is not being hampered by the rain.

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. “Volumes will be short this year regardless of the yields as many growers have stopped growing potatoes after too many bad years. The fresh produce trade in general has been crushed by big retail for years and more recently by Brexit, followed by high energy costs and lack of labour. Unfortunately, in the potato trade growers don’t tend to come back due to high capital investment. For those who have survived it has been a couple of very scary years," said a Scottish grower.

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.

There is some positive news though, British growers can send seed to Northern Ireland where it can be grow then sent to Europe, but it will be small scale as there is not the land base or growers in Northern Ireland to do it on a big scale. Since the closing of the European market for seed, no new markets have opened for Scottish seed potatoes, growers have just focussed on the current markets. The Scottish Government has not yet released the figures but it is expected that seed potato production will dip below 10,000 hectares for the first time in many, many years.

Italy: Excellent quality and lower yield produce high prices
Potato production in Emilia Romagna, one of Italy's main growing regions, has fallen by 25-30%. This has led to a significant increase in prices in the face of constant demand. According to one wholesaler, the product is leaving the packaging warehouses at an average price of €1.15/kg. The sizes are not very big, but the quality is very good. In contrast to the previous two years, there were no widespread insect issues in 2023 and spoilage is very low. For the producers, the lower yields are compensated by the high prices. The wholesaler also explains that a well-known potato brand has decided to keep prices constant. This leads to a high demand for potatoes of this brand, as there is not much difference in price compared to the generic (unbranded) product.

The Joint Committee of the Potato Exchange has confirmed the excellent quality of the product harvested so far and the minimum reference price for the farmer of €0.50 per kilogram marketed. The top quality potatoes to be placed on the fresh market for the 2023/24 marketing year are those with a minimum size of more than 40 mm and a maximum size of 75 mm.

Spain: Current lack of product in the potato market
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,”

The season in Castilla y León has started in a very particular commercial context, continuing the campaign in the southern and Levante areas, where the drop in yields due to drought and weather adversities raised prices to punctual prices of up to 70 cents per kilo at origin.

"It is very difficult to work with these price levels thinking about end customers, but at least in Castilla y León they have served so that when the drop in prices has come with the increase in supply, which was expected, it has not been so big: we have gone from the 70 cents per kilo that were being paid in Andalusia to 24-25 cents, which is not so bad.”

"Now, in addition, they are rising little by little," he remarks. "This year the potato market will have stable prices with a slight upward trend."

South Africa: Exceptionally high prices
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. As Limpopo starts to increase its supply, along with the Western Free State which is still harvesting, the market will become better supplied, and place downward pressure on prices.

The average price is still above R70 per 10kg bag, exceeding R80 per 10 kg bag on class 1 potatoes, even going as high as R90 at the Durban municipal market and R100 in Cape Town for, interestingly, locally grown Sandveld potatoes.

There were fewer hectares of table potatoes planted for this season (20,413 ha), and power cuts affect irrigation capabilities on farms and the decision to plant less. Although comparatively much lower, there were more hectares of processed potatoes (just under 4,000 ha) planted than last year.

South Africa is self-sufficient in potatoes and exports across its borders to countries like Mozambique.

On the South African fresh produce markets (excluding retail) almost 60 million 10 kg bags have been sold so far this year, which – possibly due to the high price – is below the 5-year average of 66.6 million 10 kg bags.

China: Planting area to increase by more than 13% year-on-year
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.

In mid and late July, the first new potatoes will start to arrive on the market. This year prices are lower than last year as supply has grown. “A larger drop in prices is expected in August and September when larger quantities of potatoes arrive on the market. Because of this expected downward price trend, we can see that buyers are cautious,” says a grower from Jiangsu. “However, even though potato plantings have increased this year, because of decreases in previous years, the total planting area is still slightly below 2020-21.”

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.

North America: Greater new crop potato supply coming on
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. “A lot of things suddenly came on and now the markets are flooded. We went from these massively high prices with huge return for the growers, though it was tough for retailers to market it at these high prices. We’ve now been in somewhat of a freefall for the last five to seven days,” he adds.

However greater supply with lower pricing also means there’s likely a better promoting situation ahead for potatoes.

Next week: Global Market Overview Pears!