According to Romain Cools from Belgapom it is a fact that the consumption of fresh potatoes by Belgian families is falling, but he expects the prices to remain high. "The market fluctuates in the region of last season. Even though Belgian potato acreage increased this year, the lower yields have kept volumes unchanged. We thought there would be plenty of potatoes. After two years with high prices, many professionals are now considering what difficulties may follow for the harvest next season. Of course, we don't have a crystal ball. Further development on the free potato market this season will depend on possible exports to countries with lower yields. This year that will not be the United Kingdom, but looking towards the east, (Germany, Poland, Ukraine or Russia), where the harvest was less than normal."

Production decline in Southern Europe

"As far as the supply of early potatoes in the fresh market of Spring 2014, we expect a continuous decline in production in Southern Europe. Hundreds of growers in these areas in recent years have stopped growing potatoes because it was no longer profitable. The average yield per hectare is a lot less than here. Lots of kilo's must be harvested just to cover the costs. This is particularly the case in Italy and Spain. The early potato market is very interesting for producers who can get to the market first. Prices often fall later in the early season, with all the consequences."

Russia still does not accept seed or consumption potatoes from the EU. Negotiations on EU level and diverse initiatives from member states try to unblock this situation but the Russians appear to be particularly difficult.

According to Romain, there has been a difference in recent years between Belgium and the Netherlands in respect of potatoes for export. "From The Netherlands potatoes did go to Russia but not from Belgium. That was due to the fact that the nVWA certification task was delegated to third parties such as the NAK or KCB. In Belgium the FAVV is the only certification authority, so this serves as the only stamp on an export certificate for all food products and plants. The FAVV will not run the risk of putting the export of vegetables, fruit or meat to Russia in jeopardy because of an issue with potatoes. The problem that Russia cites for the stop on importing potatoes is that of nematodes. What that means is the FAVV and the Belgian potato sector has been put in a cage. Nematodes are present in nearly all potato growing regions of the EU, including the Netherlands. Belgium scores better where its presence is concerned in potatoes yet the federal agency has decided to curb all export with no concern for Belgian exporters. Last week in discussion with the FAVV an agreement was arranged where Belgian exporters would be allowed to safely export to Russia, but now they have closed entry for all potatoes from the EU. This market holds a lot of risks for operators as vegetable and fruit exporters can testify."

Small player
"Especially for the Dutch and Germans right now, it is a big problem that they cannot make any contracts for seed potatoes as now is the period to do that. The Russians give the appearance that they don't care. Nevertheless, in Belgium we are looking to see if it is possible to make a bilateral agreement with Russia for the possibility to export seed potatoes from our country.

Even though our country only has a few key export enterprises when it comes to consumption potatoes we are not the main player. It is a remarkable fact that the largest suppliers of consumption potatoes for the Russian market appears to be Egypt and Pakistan. I suspect that the Russian government are not going to come begging for potatoes from us even though the harvest there has reportedly not gone well and prices are rapidly rising. The country and control services stay an unpredictable and opaque factor."

For more information:
Romain Cools
T +32 (0)9 339 12 49