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Analysis potatoes

Planting Season in EU-4 Falls Far Behind

May 28, 2024 - Jesse Torringa

The substantial and persistent precipitation continues to plague potato growers in parts of Western Europe. The month of June is approaching, and there is still a considerable potato area to be planted. Especially in Belgium, planting is not progressing well. Additionally, the heavy rainfall is taking its toll in some areas, often resulting in rotten potatoes.

The potato planting this season has been stop-and-go, and June is almost here. The days suitable for planting have been scarce; there has really only been one good week when growers and contractors could make progress. That was in the second week of May when a lot of work was done. After that, potatoes have been gradually planted, but there is still quite a bit left to plant in some areas.

Regional significant differences
It is difficult to estimate the total amount of potatoes still to be planted. This is mainly due to the large regional differences, but an estimated 75 to 80% have been planted. Aviko Potato also confirmed this in the latest planting progress report. In some regions, many have already disconnected the planting machines, such as in the northern and central parts of the Netherlands. Starch company Avebe stated on Monday that they are almost done with planting (90% of the area). However, in the southern regions, there is still a lot more work to be done.

Willem van Tilburg, manager of purchasing and sales at Aviko Potato, confirms that the differences in planting progress are significant. "Due to the difference in rainfall, there are large variations in potato planting. If you look at the weather map, you can clearly see where the most rainfall has occurred. Potato planting is often challenging in these areas. I think particularly the clay areas are further along than the sandy areas, considering the amount of rainfall in the southeast."

Rainfall map for the month of May so far.

The closer to the border with Belgium, the more planting still needs to be done, it seems. Sources confirm that some growers in the southeast still need to plant more than half of their area. In parts of Zeeland, there is also still a lot of work to be done.

Emiel Noordermeer, sales advisor for arable farming at CZAV, indicates that the majority of potatoes on the South Holland islands are already planted. "Saying all potatoes have been planted is a bit exaggerated, but certainly 90% to 95% of the area is in the ground here." However, there may still be a need for replanting in the region due to the heavy rainfall that occurred later. It is still too early to say anything definitive. "Locally, we had quite heavy showers over the weekend. We have to wait and see if the potatoes start rotting here. Maybe there will be a need for replanting."

Belgium significantly behind
While in the Netherlands more than three-quarters of the total area is planted, our southern neighbors in Belgium are even further behind in potato planting. Once again, rainfall is preventing growers from getting into the fields. In the planting overview published weekly by Aviko Potato, it is clear that Belgium has made the least progress among the EU-4 countries. Aviko estimates that only about 40% of the area has been planted in Belgium, with hardly any progress compared to a week earlier.

Ilse Eeckhout, team leader for potatoes at the Belgian Viaverda (a merger of various Belgian research centers), confirms that there has been hardly any progress in the past week. They also conducted a survey among Flemish growers, which revealed that only 46% had planted. "Our survey closed on May 21. We did have some dry days after the survey closed, so the percentage is slightly higher now. I think just over half of the area is now planted. However, we had a lot of rain again last week, so progress is slow."

According to Eeckhout, while the northeast received the most rainfall, the provinces of West Flanders and East Flanders (major potato cultivation areas) also have a significant delay in planting. In West Flanders, 38% of the estimated potato area has been planted, and in Flemish Brabant, only 36% has been planted. Rain is also forecasted for the coming days, similar to the situation in the Netherlands.

Progress of potato planting in EU-4 + United Kingdom. Source: Aviko Potato.

Situation in Germany and France
Potato planting in France and Germany has progressed further, although it is not yet completed. This is also reflected in Aviko's data. In France, some growers were able to return to the fields, but rainfall is also preventing the completion of planting here. In Germany, the planting progress varies. Most cultivation areas are finished, but the regions in West Germany - bordering the Netherlands and Belgium - are facing similar challenges, according to Ferdinand Buffen, director at the German potato trading house Weuthen. "In our area, the last 20% still needs to be planted. And with our growers in Brabant and Limburg, 30% still needs to be planted. We also have another problem. In fields that have been planted, we are experiencing issues with rotten potatoes. The situation in these regions is no different from that in Brabant and Limburg in the Netherlands." Buffen mentions that potatoes will be planted as soon as possible, even though June is approaching. He refers to the continued high profitability of potato cultivation compared to other crops.

Moderate conditions and rotten tubers
Even in the planted fields, conditions are not ideal in some areas this growing season. Everyone has seen it over the past weeks: the water reaches the top of the potato ridges, and the soil is completely saturated. The heavy showers are localized, but they cover a significant area. The total rainfall adds up significantly. It is now clear that some seed potatoes have suffocated and are already rotting. This often occurs in low-lying areas and headlands, but unfortunately, rotten tubers are also found in large parts of a potato field. Also, many growers on heavy soils have struggled to hill up the potatoes, and the plants have been above ground for some time.

With the current temperature and moisture level, the crop is growing rapidly. And besides the plant, there is another entity thriving under these conditions, and that is phytophthora. With the first findings of phytophthora, the situation is worrying. This was reported by BO-Akkerbouw last weekend. They stated that multiple infections have already been found throughout the Netherlands.

Late planting is also not favorable for (cut) seed potatoes. Besides the fact that cut seed potatoes do not tolerate the wet conditions in the soil well, the quality deteriorates significantly for batches that were cut weeks ago. Even after repeated chitting, the potential decreases, especially when the batches have been at temperature for a long time.

Jesse Torringa

Jesse Torringa is a market specialist in seed potatoes and organic potatoes, onions, and carrots at DCA Market Intelligence.
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