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NEPG Rings the Alarm Bell for Next Potato Harvest

Throughout North-Western Europe the NEPG (North-Western European Potato Growers) reports it is obvious the next potato crop will be much lower and quality issues will be a main challenge. Extreme record drought and exceptional temperatures exist all over the main potato-growing countries in Europe.

Not even 50 per cent of the North-Western potato acreage can be irrigated and in spite of the high costs, irrigation pumps are working day and night. But in all countries restrictions for the use of water have been imposed by regional administrations. Irrigation can be forbidden, forbidden during a few hours in the day, or the volumes of water allowed for irrigation can be decreased. The irrigated fields still have growth potential. However, for many fields the rain came too late. After the recent rain showers, there is a threat of secondary growth, first cases are already reported. Actually, the potatoes have an extremely high dry matter content which can also be considered as a risk for extra damage during the upcoming harvest in extremely dry fields.

First Trial Digs

The first trial digs in mainland Europe show a large variation between irrigated and non-irrigated fields, for example, on average in France, for the moment, 13 to/ha brut. Based upon the actual knowledge, experts consider overall, minimum 15 to 25 per cent lower yields compared with the long term average. During the coming weeks more serious trial digs in the various mainland NEPG countries will be reported. It is too early to estimate the expected lower harvest at this moment. Due to the expected quality issues the final net yields are also questionable.

Contracted Volumes, A Test of the Relationship for the Supply Channel

About 70 per cent of the consumption potato crop in the mainland NEPG countries is in some kind of way contracted, mainly with the processing industry. Many growers report they will probably not be able to supply the contracted volume and the question is how the buyers will react and might force growers to supply their contracted volumes, even if buying at the actual expensive free market is needed. However free potatoes will be very scarce all over the NEPG area. Financial losses will be considerable even if the growers manage just to fulfill their contracts.

A spokesman of the British farmers union NFU concluded “the extreme weather events of 2018 is out of growers’ control and it would take the most stone-hearted buyer not to recognize this.” The area of potatoes grown in Great Britain is estimated to have reduced 3 per cent this year according to the AHDB, which may exacerbate issues should yields show significant reductions.

The NFU has been in touch with a number of packers, processors and retailers over the last couple of months, asking how they intend to deal with yield and quality issues, and calling on them to apply flexibility and fairness when dealing with shortages.

Force Majeure

In Belgium, France and Germany the farmers unions are in discussion with the clients or have meetings in the upcoming week. Some governments are asked to declare this situation as a “nature catastrophe,” so the growers could claim Force Majeure at their clients and not been forced to supply the contracted volumes.

Pan European Approach

The NEPG would regret if processors on an individual basis will discuss the contract issues with their growers and the NEPG suggest an overall pan North-Western approach. This dry season and the change of climate is also a challenge for the potato supply chain to reconsider the contracts and market risks for the near future. The processing industry needs more potatoes every year and the risk of growing increases proportionally. Now all risks are for the account of the growers.

The NEPG suggests the COPA Potato Working Group of the EU to start discussions with EUROPATAT (European Potato Traders Association) and EUPPA (European Potato Processors Association).

Lack of Seed Potatoes

Probably the lower overall yields will also effect the yields for seed potatoes for next season.

Source: North-Western European Potato Growers

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