Europe, UK, Ireland

Belgium: Flemish potato area increases again this season; processors demand more raw product

The Flemish potato area will increase by around eight percent in the coming season, according to information released by the Flemish Center for Agriculture and Horticulture (VILT).

The Testing Center for Potato Cultivation (PCA) concludes this after an initial survey of its members. It is especially the area of ​​early potatoes that is rising sharply: no less than 20 percent compared to 2018. The area of ​​storage potatoes is also rising again, expected to be around seven percent. According to the first figures, the potato area in Wallonia remains more or less the same as last season.

The potato area has been on the rise in Belgium for several years. Whereas some ten years ago, only 40,000 hectares of potatoes were grown, in 2018 it was more than 96,000 hectares. The Flemish potato growers account for approximately 50,000 hectares of this.

This growth is mainly driven by the “potato hunger” of the processing industry: year after year, that sector demands more potatoes . Last year, the milestone of five million tonnes of processed potatoes was achieved, whereas it was only half that a decade ago. In view of this, Belgium is now the largest exporter of potato products in the world.

At the beginning of April, PCA surveyed the total area and the potato varieties that its members planned to plant in 2019. A total of 131 growers completed the survey and the results were extrapolated from the test center to the whole of Flanders. 

“Although a number of growers did not yet know their definitive area, we can already make an initial cautious estimate with this data,” it says. Based on this, PCA expects the total area of ​​consumption potatoes for the 2019-2020 season to increase by eight percent compared to 2018.

The area of ​​early potatoes, which amounted to approximately 7,400 hectares in 2018, will increase by around 20 percent this year. The increase in the storage potato area is slightly more modest, but remains quite large at seven percent, given the growth in recent years. It is striking that the variety Bintje is losing more ground (-16%). This puts it in second place for the most cultivated French fry potato, but the area occupies only 12 percent of all fry varieties.

Since Bintje is very sensitive to potato diseases and after a bad performance during the exceptionally dry and hot summer of 2018, potato growers are increasingly choosing other varieties. The area of ​​Fontane in particular is rising sharply (+ 13%). In Flanders, Fontane is now being planted on half of the potato chip area. Other popular storage varieties are Challenger, Innovator, Marquis and Felsina.

With the increase of seven percent in Flanders and the stagnation of the potato area in Wallonia (+ 0.6%), the total potato area in Belgium is moving in the direction of 100,000 hectares that Belgapom has previously put forward as a sort of optimum in Belgium . 

“Knowing that not every soil type is suitable for potatoes, many more than 100,000 hectares are unrealistic,” said Romain Cools, secretary of the Belgian Federation of Potato Processing and Trade a while ago already. He does expect that the yield per hectare can increase even further.

The weather conditions will have to be better than last year. The heat and the drought made the potato harvest last year 19 percent lower than the five-year average.

At the beginning of April, PCA estimated the total Belgian potato harvest to come to 1.25 million tonnes. That is about 94,000 tons less potatoes compared to the average the past five seasons. Due to the disappointing harvest, only 16 percent of the current stock is available on the free market. About 1.04 million tonnes are still under contract. That amount is also higher than in previous years.

Source: PCA. This article was translated from the original article published in the Dutch language. Go here to read the article in Dutch.