Analysis Potatoes

Steady price level of new potato harvest continues

June 21, 2024 - Niels van der Boom

The harvest of new potatoes is gaining momentum in more and more countries. In the Netherlands, the early potato auction Alvantho on Tholen has been running for over a week. In Germany, the prime season is already in full swing. The challenging conditions in the country, combined with high prices for the old harvest, are keeping the new potatoes at a high price level.

On Tuesday, June 11, the auction clock of Alvantho in Sint-Annaland ran for the first time this potato season. Despite the planting not taking place particularly early, and most fields not being covered with plastic, new potatoes still arrived on time. At the end of May, the first crops could be harvested, but heavy rainfall on the Zeeland island disrupted the process.

High prices at the auction
The first realized price for Frieslander ranged from €110 to €120 per 100 kilos. That was €85 to €106 a year earlier. Doré ranged from €142 to €162 (2023: €100 to €110) and Eigenheimer topped the list at €194. That was a maximum of €170.40 last year. A 14% increase.

In the Netherlands, the last remnants of the old harvest of table potatoes are still being traded. The regional markets stopped noting prices at the end of May. PotatoNL still provides an export price for 40mm and larger. It remained just below the fry potato price for almost the entire season but has now reached an equal price level of €60. Making a good comparison is difficult. Last year, the last price was set on May 1.

In our neighboring Germany, the new season has started with higher prices than a year earlier. Reka Rheinland reports €83 to €85 on Friday, June 21 in the early cultivation area of Rhineland-Palatinate. In Lower Saxony, it is €83. This is almost the same as a year earlier when the price was €82 to €84. German growers and buyers are satisfied with the market demand. Since this week, the first firm early potatoes have been harvested and packed. Due to the good market demand, fields are being harvested quickly.

Damages from floods
The heavy rainfall combined with temperature creates a high disease pressure. Rain locally disrupts the potato harvesting, although many growers have been able to take advantage of a slightly drier week to start harvesting. Potato growers in Bavaria are assessing the damage after all the floods in May. The German insurance association estimates the total cost to the state at €2 billion.

The damage to potato crops varies and depends on the cultivation region. Insiders estimate that about 4,000 hectares of potatoes have been lost.

In France, the table potato market is in a transitional phase at the end of June. The last remnants of the old harvest are being packed. Storage spaces at growers are empty, and all seed potatoes are finally in the ground, according to the growers' organization UNPT. The delivery of new potatoes is starting somewhat hesitantly. Along the coast in the southwest of the country, potatoes are being harvested slowly, but yields are disappointing in many places. The high phytophthora pressure is also problematic here.

Record sales in France
Thanks to the calm start and good sales, high price levels are also expected in France. Export figures show that in April, 282,000 tons of table and fry potatoes were exported. That is a fifth more than a year earlier. The total for the season is 2.08 million tons. That is 8% more than the previous season. The imported quantity of potatoes has also increased this season. Up to April, this volume was 300,000 tons. Half of this comes from Belgium and is destined for the fry factories in northern France. The Netherlands is also an important potato supplier.

In Poland, the early potato harvest started extremely early this year. A combination of an early planting date, warm and dry weather made this possible. Due to increasing imports, market prices dropped by almost 40% in early June to the equivalent of €45 per 100 kilos. Poland has also received a significant amount of rainfall locally, increasing disease pressure. Therefore, prices have rebounded, reaching up to €58.

Early fry potatoes
The first fry potatoes from Northwestern Europe usually appear in the first half of July. Some factories are already using new harvests from, for example, France (Bordeaux region) before that time. Reportedly, this is not going smoothly this year due to the later planting date and late frost in this part of France. Therefore, even fry potatoes from Egypt are now being processed, insiders report. Potatoes have also been sourced from Central Europe. Whether the transport costs make this feasible is a calculation for the processors. With free market prices of €70 or more, this is becoming increasingly attractive.

It is difficult to determine exactly how many potatoes still need to be planted in the EU-4. Work in Germany and France is completed. In the southern Netherlands, this is not the case. Planting is happening slowly, but heavy showers are once again disrupting the process in some regions. However, much of the backlog has been caught up, and buyers continue to emphasize that every (seed) potato must be planted this season.

All planted in July?
According to Viaverda (formerly PCA), planting in Belgium is also not yet completed. There was progress made last week, but showers disrupted the process here as well. Aviko Potato has not released recent figures, but after week 23, 40% (!) was still to be planted in Belgium and a tight 20% in the Netherlands. Given the improved weather forecast for the last week of June, a portion of this area can still be planted this month, provided heavy showers are avoided. Whether the remainder will also be planted after July 1 remains to be seen.

Fiwap expects the first new harvest to arrive in early July. A small portion could be planted early and is ready for harvesting on time. There are also early potatoes, such as Zorba, which were only planted in mid-June. On both sides of the border. This will lead to a significant heterogeneity in the crops this harvest year. Season 2023-2024 started with an almost equal price level to the end of the previous season. The likelihood of a repeat performance this year is high. How the price will hold up in the long term largely depends on the growth conditions and how the factories operate. It is clear that the challenging start will haunt the sector throughout the entire season.

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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