The Belgian potato area is growing significantly each year, and according to the latest prognoses the milestone of 100,000 hectares will be reached in 2017 or 2018. “This year we will reach approximately 90,000 hectares. The step to 100,000 is not much bigger after that, and it will therefore not take very long either,” says Romain Cools. Cools continues: “Fact is that our Belgian processing industry invests more and more in capacity, both new and improving lines, and demand on the world market is increasing. The proximity of our cultivation to the trade and processing companies is and remains crucial to the strength of Belgian potato processing. For that, sustainability is key. After all, it is undeniably an advantage to organise processing as close to the base material as possible. Besides, increasingly expensive transportation costs are also a factor.” Is the area becoming too large?
“Yes, and it will continue to be important that the Belgian potato cultivation stays healthy, and cultivation rotation is key for that. As proof that we are not just talking about this, I can refer to the monitoring function our quality system Vegaplan has in this. Now that the government has stopped monitoring the application of rotation for consumption potatoes (this was part of monitoring of the GLB previously), private/public system Vegaplan is taking over this function.”
“Additionally, there are still plenty of regions that previously had other specialities, such as grain or sugar beets, which now show increasing interest in the cultivation of potatoes. If you look at the average return of agricultural crops over recent years, the potato sector always tops the list. Of course, it is not just the cultivation that is important, but quality as well. Climate and soil are very suitable for a competitive cultivation in this country. Belgapom, together with a number of partners in the supply chain and with support from the government and research institutions, are devoting more and more effort to shaping, training and innovation. For example, we are working on a high-quality ‘potato academy’ which will upgrade knowledge throughout the supply chain. We also see increasing professionalisation in the supply sector, as was illustrated by the latest edition of Interpom Primeurs in Kortrijk. This is therefore a true supply chain story,” Cools emphasises.
Cools concludes: “In short, there is definitely still a growth margin, and this is thanks to the growth of the Belgian potato processing industry, which is not standing still either. For example, VLAM and APAQ-W, with five companies from the sector, and in cooperation with the EU, will launch a promotional campaign in 2017 to give Belgian fries a strong image in five South Asian countries. These countries are already on the export list, but because North America was active first on these markets, which are close-by for them, they have been able to build a strong image already. We are now going to make sure the ‘Belgian fries from the heart of Europe’ can have a place next to those. The budget for this three-year campaign, three million euro, is certainly not unpleasant.”
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