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.
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%.
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.
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
"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.
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
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".