Analysis Potatoes

New potato harvest starts at high price level

May 13, 2024 - Niels van der Boom

The harvest of early potatoes in Europe has started early. While in Northwest Europe the planting machines are in full swing, in countries like Spain, Greece, Poland, and Romania, new potatoes are already being harvested. This European season intersects with the supply from North Africa.

Potato growers in Spain have planted about the same amount of early potatoes this year as in 2023. According to government figures, this amounts to nearly 13,000 hectares. The area of early potatoes has decreased by a third this season. A small growth is expected for the mid-early potatoes. The outcome of the late harvest is still pending.

More seed potato exports
If we look at the export figures of Dutch seed potatoes, an overall increase in area can be expected. Almost 44,000 tons of seed potatoes were exported to Spain from the 2023 harvest year. This is 6.8% more than the previous year and quite remarkable, considering the alleged shortage of seed potatoes this year. It is even the largest volume of seed potatoes since 2016. Spanish growers will have to deal more often with new and unknown varieties this year due to the shortage of seed material. Spanish growers also report a high virus pressure after more infections last year.

The growing season has been better in Spain this year than last year when the country experienced extreme conditions. The planting season was good, but there was a lot of rainfall in April, especially in the region around Seville. This year, the new harvest season started about two weeks earlier than usual. Growers are satisfied with the price level, which has risen to over €70 per 100 kilos this month. Other European countries are eager buyers of Spanish potatoes.

Portuguese area decreases
In neighboring Portugal, the potato area is decreasing this year according to official statistics from the statistical office. It amounts to 12,800 hectares compared to 13,500 hectares last year. The Dutch seed potato exports to Portugal also show a decline. This season, almost 2,500 tons less were exported, a decrease of 16.5%. Less favorable growing weather at the beginning of this year has led to higher disease pressure and growth delays.

The early potato harvest in France has yet to begin. Only on the island of Nourmetier are potatoes being harvested. It will take some time before the country can meet its own needs. Besides imports from Egypt and Israel, the French are increasingly supplied with Spanish potatoes. The old table potato harvest is almost depleted.

In Greece, the potato harvest has been underway for a month in the Peloponnese. The area here, about 2,500 hectares, is decreasing annually due to competition from potatoes from countries like Egypt. The prices for growers range between €50 and €60 per 100 kilos, significantly better than a year ago when the price remained around €37. Greek traders expect a consistently good demand from European countries as their own harvest is often sold out early.

Price pressure in Poland
In Poland, too, the potato harvest started at least ten days earlier than average. It concerns early potatoes under plastic, mainly grown in the early cultivation area around Poznan. Last week, the temperature dropped to -5 degrees Celsius locally at night in Poland, but reportedly the potatoes were not affected by frost. Drought is also becoming increasingly important, especially in southern Poland. There has been no significant rainfall for almost two months. In northern Poland, on the other hand, it has been above-average wet.

With imports from Romania, Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece, there is a lot of pressure on the new harvest. The fact that the new potatoes are appearing earlier than usual is not an advantage. In the Polish trading markets, the price level was between €1.60 and €2.80 per kilo at the beginning of May. This is double the price of imported potatoes. This price level is expected to decrease rapidly as more domestic volume enters the market, along with the supply from other countries.

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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