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Damp-hurt harvest sends UK potato stocks tumbling

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Unfavourable weather conditions have led Britain's potato stocks to drop almost 20% year-on-year, according to the Potato Council – cautioning over setbacks already this year thanks to poor weather too.

Latest estimates showed that British potato growers stocks totalled 2.7m tonnes at the end of November 2012, a fall of 18% compared with the 3.3m tonnes a year before.

The fall was a reflection of a harvest sapped by "mainly adverse [weather] conditions", with the Potato Council reporting "snow and wintery showers followed by some periods of heavy rain," and resulted in unfavourable ground conditions, still "too wet for any land work".

Potato production last year posted a 24% reduction on 2011 levels to 4.64m tonnes.

High prices

Imports have also risen as a result of the lower domestic production.

Imports in the six-months ending November 2012 were up by over 250% on the same period in 2011, according to data from the Potato Council.

However, the council also suggested the tight supply situation would give processors an economic incentive to reduce the level of potatoes wastes in packing and processing.

Potato prices ended last week at £240.02 per tonne up 2.7% from the previous week and more than twice the $113.76 per tonne seen in the same week 2012.

Europe has same issues

The story is much the same in northern Europe where France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands reported an average 16% decline in potato crop production last year.

The prices of processing potatoes in Germany stood last week at the equivalent of £172-181 a tonne, up from £169-186 a tonne the week prior.

Reported prices for processing potatoes were little changed in Belgium, France and the Netherlands on the week. However, prices remain considerable than those seen this time last year.

In France, the price increase is more than four times higher, from £38 a tonne to £176 a tonne, with Belgian prices, at £172 a tonne, some three times higher than a year ago.

'Hampered planting'

Meanwhile, the extension of the wet conditions has plagued farmers with early-sown crops in 2013 too, in the south west of England, where a warmer climate and sandy soils encourage farmers to cash in on higher-priced early-season crops.

"Wet weather again hampered planting in Cornwall" last week, the council said, although at the weekend "conditions improved allowing activities to gain momentum".

The wet weather is also hampering growers who have crops left over from 2012 still to lift, and which they are attempting to clear in time for the spring planting season.

By James Moore

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