Northern EU potato harvest poor, report will say

The poor conditions which have handed the UK its worst potato harvest since 1976 hurt crops in many European countries too, although, in an echo of the grains result, German farms escaped damage.

The UK's Potato Council is putting the final touches to a report set later this week to highlight the extent of the setbacks facing northern European potato growers from weather which landed many areas with excessive rains.

"Apart from Germany, farmers on the Continent have had some big challenges," Jim Davies, senior analyst at the Potato Council, told

"There is still a little bit of crop left in the ground in France and Belgium," at a time when the harvest has typically been completed.

"Apart from Germany, yields are not as strong this year. There has been a lower northern European crop than usual."

'Unusually cold conditions'

The comments followed the council's confirmation that the British harvest was the lowest in 36 years, thanks to "unusually cold, dull and wet conditions", although late harvesting did mean the crop had not proved quite as weak as initial indications.

The council edged higher by 80,000 tonnes, to 4.64m tonnes, its estimate of the crop as "the end-of-season lifting estimate now indicates a smaller unlifted area than previously reported", although the harvest is still down 24% year on year.

Less than 5% of the planted area of 121,800 hectares remains unlifted, below a previous estimate of 11%, if higher than usual for a harvest which is normally completed by mid-November.

Some potato farmers has spoken too ploughed in failed crops in preparation for the next sowings, although some viable rows are still being kept in hopes that they will survive the winter, and prove capable of harvesting early next year.

Price impact

Indeed, the potato price is providing a strong incentive for farmers to save what crop they can, with the free-market value in the UK reaching £321.58 a tonne as of December 7 more than triple that a year before.

This has allowed some farmers to more than make up in price what they have lost in yield.

However, the majority of potatoes 75%, according to the National Farmers Union is grown under contract, typically at prices struck at levels less than half those of the current free-buy rate.

The NFU earlier this month cautioned that buyers needed to raise their contract values "if we are to stop highly-skilled growers leaving this industry in favour of more lucrative crops".

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