Poor harvests send EU potato prices soaring

The extent of the impact of Northern Europe's poor potato harvest on sending prices soaring has been revealed in a report showing that Belgium's crop suffered nearly as badly as the UK's from dismal weather.

Prices of processing potatoes in the Netherlands have reached the equivalent of £203-235 a tonne, up some six times from a year before, a report from the UK-based Potato Council said.

In France, the price increase is more than eight times, from £24 a tonne to £206 a tonne, with Belgian prices, at £195-203 a tonne, some 10 times higher than a year ago.

The "exceptionally high prices", which are considerably higher still for non-processing products such as baking potatoes, reflect rainy and overcast conditions which, while at an extreme in the UK, which suffered its wettest summer in 100 years, hurt Continental crops too.

"The challenges of the Great Britain growing and harvest season have been mirrored in Northern Europe," the council said.

Worst hit

While British yields were especially low, down 19.6% at 38.1 tonnes per hectare, those produced by Belgian farmers suffered a decline nearly as big, tumbling by 16.3%.

Northern European potato production, (year-on-year change)

Germany: 7.07m tonnes, (-10.3%)

France: 4.69m tonnes, (-14,5%)

GB: 3.96m tonnes, (-24%)

Belgium: 3.37m tonnes, (-22%)

Netherlands: 3.22m tonnes, (-16.9%)

Source: Potato Council

Indeed, with sowings down too, after a strong regional crop last year sent prices tumbling, Belgium's overall harvest fell by 22% to 3.37m tonnes, leaving a country noted as particularly fond of potatoes its chip consumption per capita is one-third higher than America's looking at returning to being a net importer.

"The Belgian processing requirement of 3.5m tonnes currently exceeds domestic production," the Potato Council said.

UK potato imports have risen by 13.6% to more than 750,000 tonnes in the June-to-October period.

Double boost

France, a major potato exporter, is seeing exports rise by some 20% to meet demand, with shipments up 66% to Belgium and up sevenfold to the UK, now the top importer of French crop.

However, prospects for the potato sector in Germany, the EU's top producer, look particularly bright, with crops blessed by better weather, and seeing yields fall only 1.5%, while prices are up fivefold at £191-203 a tonne.

In countries plagued by wet conditions, which have left perhaps 10,000 hectares of potatoes still in the ground in Belgium, France and the UK, the elevated prices are providing "a high incentive to harvest this unlifted area when conditions allow".

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