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WORD ON THE GROUND: Will we have enough potatoes?

Last year we gave up the struggle of potato lifting on November 22, leaving 7½ acres in the ground. These were finally lifted in the last week of March this year.

This year we finished on October 14! Lifting in September is much better than in the cold and wet of November. It is dependent on having some rain in September as damage is always less if the soil has some moisture so that it is carried up the web, cushioning the potatoes as they progress through the harvester.

This year’s potato yields are around our average, which normally would mean the market place to be in balance.COVID-19 has meant, however, the catering sector demand is vastly reduced, so those varieties which don’t normally get accepted by the supermarkets are likely to be offered at prices they can’t resist. Certainly the free buy price for white varieties is currently below the cost of production.

Grower Richard Barlow. (43035707)
Grower Richard Barlow. (43035707)

I would like to contract sell more of our tonnage, but many of the packers are taking advantage of adequate supplies, and offering contracts that are only barely above cost of production.

Currently, if there is a shortage, the difference between contract and freebuy prices can be considerable, whilst in an oversupply year the difference is much less, leading us to all gamble on the hope of a shortage of potatoes, rather than being satisfied with a contract that gives us a return that allows reinvestment and a profit.

The national average yield is only about 18 tonnes/acre, but they seem to think that most growers are getting yields of 25 tonnes plus.

Apparently some packers are offering lower prices for 2021 then this year. Any grower signing up deserves to go to the wall!The trend of less potato farmers, growing bigger acreages, will continue, but quality needs rewarding so that potato growing on marginal land becomes uneconomical.

As this is the first year we have not had CIPC available to control sprouting in store, it will be interesting to see how potatoes destined for long term storage fair.

Stores that aren’t well insulated and draughty will struggle as the main alternative, mint oil, only burns off existing sprouts and needs to remain in the store for some time and not leak away.Crops may need several applications and obviously is a lot more costly. If you purchase potatoes you may find a whiff of mint. Washed and cooked, this should disappear and doesn’t mean you can only eat them with lamb!

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