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North-Western Europe: Official estimate of lower harvest; quality, processing concerns

The North-Western European Potato Growers Association (NEPG) estimates the upcoming harvest of the potato crop destined for fresh consumption to be 18% below last year’s total, and 8% under the 5 year average. This, in spite of the fact that the total area planted this season was 8,4% more than the average area planted during the last 5 seasons. In a press release, NEPG says the extreme drought and high temperatures all over North-Western Europe resulted in an estimated average yield of between 40 and 41 tons per hectare in the 5 leading potato countries (Germany, Belgium, UK, Netherlands and France). The main harvest is just now getting underway in Great Britain, and the NEPG says it is still difficult to come to a reliable estimate of the final harvest in the UK. The NEPG estimates the combined total harvest of potatoes for consumption in the north-western European countries to be between 23,5 and 24 million tons.

All countries are reporting secondary growth and growers are concerned about how this crop will keep in storage. During the last few weeks growers noticed instances of secondary growth of tubers and  the dry matter content of potatoes going down, which raise concerns about quality and possible storage issues. The NEPG stresses therefore that the main subject will be the quantity of net harvest in the upcoming season and to answer this question it is still too early. Most of this season’s potatoes are still in the ground. Between 5 and 10% waste could be realistic on the mainland, maybe more depending on the weather during the harvest.

The NEPG says most growers will not benefit from the current high prices as the majority of all potatoes are contracted and the quantity of overproduction with good quality on contracts will be limited and in some cases there will be non-existent. In many countries the growers have asked their governments for help, as they feel they can not be kept responsible for these low yields but still have to supply contracted volumes.

Some processors have reportedly already lowered their standards for raw material delivered at their facilities, and there are reports of table potatoes and/or starch potatoes going into chipping lines. In case the dry matter will be lower the processors also need more raw material to produce the same amount of ready product.

In many parts of the NEPG countries, harvesting for storage is delayed because of too dry conditions, while some processing facilities were supplied for several hours or even days due to lack of delivery of raw material. Growers hope for rain, but also hope for limited quantities, fearing that a very rainy autumn could hold back the harvest.