Analysis Potatoes

Area growth: European potato grower optimistic

April 26, 2024 - Niels van der Boom

Potato growers in the EU-5 expect the consumption potato area to grow this year. This is exceptional considering the shortage of seed potatoes. Strong demand from the processing industry and the availability of alternative varieties should enable growth figures.

Last year, the consumption potato area in the EU-4 increased by 2.7%. Official figures for 2024 are still missing and will take a while. However, surveys are being conducted among European growers in the main countries indicating growth in cultivation this year. On the one hand, this is surprising given the significant shortage of planting material. On the other hand, there are opportunities, and they are being seized.

5 percent more in Flanders?
In early April, Viaverda (formerly PCA) conducted a survey among 124 Flemish potato growers. It emerged that on average, they are increasing their area of fries potatoes by 5%. This amounts to 3,000 hectares, bringing the total Flemish potato area to 58,000 hectares. The area of early varieties reportedly increases slightly more (7%) than the area of late fries potatoes (5%).

This outcome is not a big surprise when comparing it to an earlier survey by Boerenbusiness. A large group of Dutch growers also indicated their intention to expand the area this year. It is mainly the larger growers (50 hectares plus) who are adding more hectares. The main reason for shrinking is the availability of land rather than seed potatoes.

Wider range of varieties
Both the Flemish and Dutch figures need to be treated with caution. Not all contracts are final, and not all seed potatoes have been delivered. Especially now that the weather is causing significant disruptions, it is challenging to get all (cut) potatoes to the growers at the right time. What the Flemish figures do show is an increase in the diversity of varieties. In recent years, the area has mainly shifted towards Fontane - and to a lesser extent Innovator - but this year, other varieties such as Markies, Challenger, Donata, and Lady Anna are also mentioned. There is also growth expected for Bintje again, likely due to the attractive cost of seed potatoes.

According to Viaverda's figures, the growth in Wallonia is slightly higher at 7%. There, too, more alternative varieties are being planted, although Fontane remains dominant. In France, potato growers are positive and there are whispers of a few percentage points of growth. The growers' organization UNPT has not yet provided figures, except that the country is facing a shortage of about 150,000 tons of seed potatoes this year. Additionally, it is rumored that more French seed potatoes are being exported to other countries, a trend also noticeable from Germany. German seed potatoes are being used elsewhere in Europe to fill the gap left by the Netherlands. With the arrival of significantly more processing capacity in the North-France and South-Belgium region, it is not surprising that growth is expected there.

Growth in the east
Last year, the area in the EU-4 grew everywhere except in the Netherlands. Poland also saw a significant decrease in area. The sector in Poland is also expecting growth this year for simple reasons. In addition to good demand, the alternatives (sugar beets and grains) have suddenly become less attractive. This is also a factor in France and Germany. Whether the Polish area can move back towards 200,000 hectares remains to be seen. The country is known for planting relatively much uncertified seed potatoes. The large professional growers usually do not participate in this, but the boundaries of what is permissible are being stretched as much as possible. This is a common practice everywhere.

Despite all estimates, the potatoes need to be planted. Planting is proceeding with interruptions throughout Northwestern Europe. The Netherlands and other coastal areas are facing heavy rainfall this spring, and once the land dries up a bit, planting can resume. The soil is saturated and poorly structured almost everywhere. This situation is not likely to change this spring. In Germany and Poland, growers on light soils have been able to plant steadily between showers. In France, a considerable amount of work has been done in a short period from late April, although the finish line is far from sight. Belgium is facing the same conditions as the Netherlands. Especially in the coastal area, both harvesters and planters were visible. An exceptional sight for two exceptional seasons.

Niels van der Boom

Niels van der Boom is a senior market specialist in potatoes and other soft commodities at DCA Market Intelligence.

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