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Agribusiness News July 2023 – Potato Update

3 July 2023

Trends in potato production

The levy body AHDB Potatoes no longer exists to collect planting returns and market information. This makes concrete information on the potato crop in GB hard to come by. The general feeling is that planted area is substantially down, particularly in England and Wales. This drop in area is not uniform for sectors within the crop – decreases in areas planted for seed and processing potatoes have likely declined only modestly, while the fall in pre-pack ware may exceed 10%.

Demand for ware potatoes both for the home market and to export destinations has been very brisk and many growers have had little difficulty clearing stores of the 2022 crop.

SPCS statistics

SASA have released their first estimate of crops entered into the Seed Potato Classification Scheme (SPCS) in Scotland which confirms the general feeling of a modest decline in planted area. This year 9,897 ha were entered into the scheme – this is 515 ha less than in 2022, a 5% reduction. Ten thousand hectares is sometimes quoted as a psychological benchmark for the Scottish seed potato industry below which it could be viewed as a minor crop.

Of interest is the changing popularity of varieties both for supply and demand in the home and export seed sector, and also because it augers coming shifts for ware markets.

There are 246 varieties registered this year in the classification scheme, but most have almost negligible areas. Only eleven varieties have over 200 ha of seed and the three most widely grown varieties: Cara (1,137 ha), Maris Piper (1,047 ha), and Hermes (963 ha), account for almost one-third of the total area of seed potatoes in Scotland.

Cara and Hermes are varieties grown primarily for export to partners such as Egypt and Morocco and the popularity of Cara has increased consistently for the past few years, primarily due to the favourable margins. However, there were some reports of over-supply to the Egypt market in 2022 and with some growers dealing directly with merchants or growers in the export destination rather than contracting through brokers there is increased exposure.

Cara is a “growers’ variety” with few prominent agronomic weaknesses – however, it is susceptible to both species of Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) and has a tendency to leave groundkeepers that are difficult to eradicate.

Maris Piper has long been the most popular potato variety with almost everyone in the supply chain (aside from agronomists) due to its versatility. However, it is susceptible to many diseases and requires high agronomic inputs. While still the second most widely grown seed potato variety its hectarage has dropped significantly in 2022: down 22% (a drop of 296 ha).

A glance at the Pre-Basic seed area reveals up-and-coming varieties that are making their way through the multiplication system. Taurus, Caruso, and Jazzy are all varieties that have modest areas of commercial-grade seed but relatively large PB areas meaning they will be significant contenders in the coming years. The biggest increase over all (both absolutely and in relative terms) is King Russet with 100 addition hectares on 2022.

Crop update

Planting was somewhat challenging in 2023, particularly in England – later planted crops were planted in good conditions but for many growers it was a stop-start processes. In Scotland some plantings were up to two weeks behind schedule, but most growers were complete in good time.

Aside from a few emergence issues which can probably be linked to conditions at planting, crops are developing well – current temperatures are ideal for growth although few crops had closed canopies by the summer solstice.

Scottish conditions through much of May and early June have been dry, with irrigators a common sight in the major production areas of Angus and Fife. Recent EU MARS Bulletin registers rain deficits across the north of the continent. Reportedly this is causing concern in Germany and the Benelux nations, but recent thunderstorms may have brought some relief.

A freak hailstorm in the Republic of Ireland has also damaged several crops – while not something that will move markets it’s a dramatic example of the vicissitudes of weather!

SRUC Potatoes Team

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