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
"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."
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 Agrimoney.com 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.
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
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".