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North Western European potato harvest 14.5% lower

The European and GB market potato production has faced tough challenges so far this season, both in Britain and across Europe. Extreme weather conditions have been commonplace with variable yields, sizes, quality and availability among the resulting key concerns experienced this year.

The European potato market has significant influence upon GB market activities. The import and export potential of the UK and subsequent impact on GB market price trends are sensitive to a number of influencers - EU currency fluctuations, market prices variations as well as external factors influencing quality and quantity such as the weather conditions, harvest progress and crop protection pressures.

In June 2012 alone, GB processed potato product exports totalled 63,345 tonnes, while fresh exports were over 10,271 tonnes, influenced by prices, quality and the destination country’s own stocks.

Similarly, GB is an important export market for the Netherlands and France. As a whole, total GB imports in June, according to HMRC, of processed and fresh potato products exceeded 145,000 tonnes.

A challenging start to the 2012 season
Not only is hectarage down in countries comprising the North-Western European Potato Growers (NEPG), but yields are also expected to be lower in each country, which may well result in less free-buy being available, particularly as export demand is strong.

North-Western Europe harvest estimated to be 14.5% lower
The NEPG, representing the five leading potato producing countries (Belgium, France,
Germany, Great Britain and Holland), has estimated that the total ware potato harvest could be 22.9m tonnes and 14.5% lower than last season. The estimate was made at the NEPG’s last meeting on the 11 September held during Potato Europe 2012, Villers-Saint-Christophe, France.

High demand
The NEPG expects a high demand this season from the processing industry and export markets, while the Belgium and the Netherlands raw material processing requirement for the first time in history may be higher than the estimated total harvest in these countries. Therefore imports from the neighbouring countries are likely to be required.

Click to enlarge table

Although the lower area and yields are giving a strong market price, not all growers will benefit. A large part of the NEPG harvest is contracted against fixed prices and with expected lower average yields – less freemarket volumes may be available.

Actual harvest and trial digs
According to the NEPG the provisional 9.2% lower yield estimation is based upon the on-going harvest situation and trial dig data from some of the member organisations. At the time of the meeting the majority of the NEPG crop was still to be harvested and these yield figures and the production estimate will be updated in late November, with actual harvest data.

Many of the members reported significant yield differences between the early and late planted crops, which in some cases was extended in June. Each country expects smaller tubers and high dry matter this season. Germany, however, has not suffered as badly as many of the other countries, obtaining high tuber numbers per plant, which, although smaller, are generally of good quality. Germany has had the most favourable growing season and harvesting conditions than the other countries and expects German yields to be close to the five year average.

Moreover, Holland has reported great variation in quality, with many tubers showing lower sizes and/or high dry matter. France and Belgium have suffered similar planting challenges to Britain, with cold wet weather in spring; a wet July and dry, hard conditions now and later planted crops suffering a 10-13t/ha penalty. However, tuber numbers are high, showing good overall quality, although there are reports of
greens, misshapen or cracked tubers and high dry matter.

Belgium area confirmation
The NEPG Belgium members FIWAP/PCA, following consultation with the regional bodies (DGARNE Walloon Region and Administratie Landbouw Visserij in the Flemish Region), have confirmed the NEPG published reduction -7.4% area in Belgium, compared to 2011. The decrease is larger in Flanders at -8.3% compared to Wallonia at -6.3%. The area confirmation comes following the announcement by the Belgian
Agency for Statistics (ADSEI) on 8 September that the Belgium area had reduced by -21.6%, a figure questioned by the Belgian NEPG members. Belgium has been very dry and suffering with harvesting difficulties, with many crops still to burn off in the hope of yield gains.

Record year for GB seed exports
GB Seed potato exports are up 2% on last year, standing at over 103,000 tonnes, according to Robert Burns, the Potato Council’s Head of Seed and Exports. Egypt continues to be the main destination, with exports now exceeding 40,000 tonnes while exports to Israel have surpassed 9,200 tonnes and Morocco 8,600 tonnes.
The figures released this week show that GB seed exports over the last year have continued to follow the steady upward trend which has been consistent since 2006.

A trend which Robert Burns comments as “very good news for producers with
great export opportunities continuing to arise for Britain.”

Robert notes that Egypt and Israel are both keen to increase their import of GB seed due to the consistent seed health status.

Source: Potato Council

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