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Another unique season

5 November 2014

In the final push to get the store doors closed on the last of the 2014 crop, safeguarding store quality is going to be vital.

 
A complex mix of factors come into play each season which provide a varying crop position together with different quality challenges that influence market conditions. 
 
“The most extreme in recent years (see graph) include the crop shortage and high freebuy market in 2012 caused by a wash out from the wettest summer for 100 years,” says senior analyst Hannah Goodwin, “together with 2010, when a sizeable GB crop achieved high market prices driven by Russian demand from a failed domestic crop.” 
 
Last season’s market prices were given a boost as harvesting commenced as supplies recovered and markets stabilised from 2012.
 
“Freebuy values so far this season are tracking 2011,” says Hannah. “The market conditions however are different, fresh consumption at retail level is currently lower. The area is also different; total GB hectarage is estimated c.7% less than 2011. But the 2014 Northern European ware area is similar to that in 2011, having seen a slight rise, mainly influenced by 8% growth in Belgium and 7% in France.”
 
“There’s growing certainty of an ample supply season this year. This will be quantified once final crops are lifted and loaded securely into store. Yield results from our annual Grower Panel Survey are currently being analysed by the team and are due to be announced, along with an estimate of total GB production, in late November.” 
 
Potential 2014 game changers
 
“There’s a concerning estimate of a large crop in Northern Europe from the NEPG, and we’ve seen situations such as French farmers buying back their own potatoes from retailers in protest and Irish farmers camped out at retailers,” says AHDB Potatoes Director Rob Clayton. “Much now hangs on quality, breakdown, consumption and other factors.” 
 
“Quality, as always will be key and although supply is currently ample, this allows for selective buying and a two tier market is becoming apparent where top quality is achieving a premium over secondary material.”
 
“There are also numerous reports of processing crops with lower than anticipated dry matters in Northern Europe, which will impact processing conversation rates and could mean increase raw material requirements to achieve the same level of finish product this season.”
 
“As market prices change, so do export opportunities and greater volumes from Northern Europe have headed to Africa so far this season.”
 
 Safe guarding quality
 
“Stringent store management is going to be vital this season,” says Adrian Cunnington, head of Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research. “Warm dry conditions allowed an early start to this year’s store loading campaign. However, as these mild conditions continued through September and for much of October, cooling and stabilising ambient stores has taken time and is proving expensive.”
 
This prolonged warm spell has started to have impact in some potato stores with an increasing and concerning number of enquiries coming in about breakdown, across a wide range of varieties.
 
Black dot continues to be reported in high levels in some stores, particularly in recently lifted material. This has been exacerbated by the extended period of exposure to warm temperatures. Watery wound rot is also an issue and tuber blight has also been reported. But not all instances of disease have been fungal; several have been purely bacterial soft rot, often associated with poor skin set. 
 
“The continued mild weather during October can only be increasing the disease pressure within those stores which do not have refrigeration and are unable to be adequately cooled,” adds Adrian. 
 
To safeguard your store it’s crucial that store managers inspect crops thoroughly and regularly for any signs of disease development or breakdown, such as dripping, smell, presence of fruit flies etc. and keep dialogue open with your supply chain. Sprout control may also be compromised if there is rot present.
 
Inevitably, there will be a number of crops that simply don’t make the grade or don’t find a market. Ploughing in, anaerobic digestion and stockfeed (e.g. NFU Fodder bank www.nfuonline.com/news/latest-news/nfu-fodder-bank-is-now-open) remain options of last resort. Stay vigilant and ask the pertinent questions about muck spreading and pasteurisation of digestate, especially as we know PCN and Powdery Scab survive in the animal gut and in the AD process.    
  
Effective drying and cooling are imperative 
 
Use the maximum amount of air available to dry any wet or diseased stocks (set any inverters to 50Hz or maximum). Ensure the air is effectively applied to crop wherever possible by closing laterals, eliminating short circuits etc
 
Maximise the options for cooling by running stores on automatic control. If possible, with axial (propeller-like) fan systems, try to reduce the ambient/crop differential to around 1.5°C, if your controller permits this. This will increase the time when cooler air can be blown in the short term. Remember to restore the setting to c. 2°C for the winter months!
 
If bacterial rot is developing, cool the crop as fast and as much as possible to reduce the rate of bacterial multiplication. In these circumstances, re-assess the likely storage life and be prepared to move crops earlier than planned, especially if disease affects over 1% of tubers.
 
In the longer term, if slow autumn cooling is a recurring problem, to consider adding refrigeration to the store or making changes to the ventilation system to increase air volumes (giving more rapid response) or improve the effectiveness of air use (e.g. through the addition of an air separator curtain, in an overhead throw box store for £2-£4/tonne).
 
TIPS
 
A new information resource, called The Interactive Potato Store (TIPS), was launched as part of the Storage 2020 initiative. TIPS allows you to discover and view information about how to make your stores more efficient. The interactive tool demonstrates many research projects that SBCSR and its partners have been involved in, for AHDB Potatoes levy-payers. The smart graphics and intuitive interface makes it easy to quickly find what you are looking for and learn about store efficiency with ease. 
 
Growers can register at www.potato.org.uk/TIPS.
 
Driving consumption
 
“The current market conditions are a great concern to many of our levy-payers and are already causing severe difficulties for some,” says AHDB Potatoes Chair Fiona Fell. “Our market intelligence shows steady growth in processing volumes but a decline in fresh, however this rate of reduction has thankfully eased throughout the summer months.”
 
“Encouraging consumption is high on our agenda; we need to help people see potatoes as part of a modern, convenient and international diet, so that it remains our Nation’s No.1 carbohydrate.”
 
That’s why we need to increase our activity to promote fresh potatoes, and we have just submitted a bid for EU funds. If we are successful this will double our resources in this area over the next 3 years.
 
Autumn is a crucial time for consumption and Potato Week at the start of October was deliberately timed to coincide with main crop harvesting. 
 
“Potato Week was about celebrating the potato and encouraging families to become interested in named varieties,” says Fiona. “The focus is on helping consumers shop for potatoes far more intuitively; choosing varieties based on taste, texture and how they perform rather than price or appearance.”
 
Potatoes account for more than 80 per cent of the retail carbohydrates market by volume. The activity during Potato Week has included a blend of magazine, radio and in-store activity (five retailers participating) and it’s just one example of how we can celebrate what’s good about potatoes and increase consumer interest.
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