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Challenging planting conditions forecast to continue

Publication Date: 
8 April 2016

Arthur Marshall, Analyst,, 02476 478956

GB potato planting has been limited so far this year, with early figures suggesting the pace is around a week behind average and up to two weeks behind the fastest pace of the past few years. Indications suggest that planting progress is behind five of the past six years, with only 2013 slower at this point. Delays to planting are typically associated with higher import levels come late summer.

Wet weather in March forecast to continue

March has been a month of two halves for GB, with wetter than normal weather in England and drier than normal weather in Scotland (see below). This has limited planting progress in England and Wales and restricted land work mostly to lighter soils. Heavier land has typically been too wet to plant. Cool soil temperatures have also hampered crop development, as well as having an impact on planting pace.

Although Scotland was drier than average in March, most planting there would not be taking place at this point anyway. For maincrop growers, soils continue to be reported as too wet in many cases. Early growers are generally not reporting delays, although some maincrop growers in the Borders, East Lothian and Fife are.

The Met Office forecasts mixed, unsettled weather to continue through April, along with cool temperatures for the first half of the month. The best of the sunnier spells are expected in the North and North West, so may miss the main potato areas in the east. For planting, this may mean that challenging conditions continue in many parts of England and Wales, although there could be more favourable conditions in Scotland.

Further into April is more uncertain, with changeable conditions remaining including prolonged spells of rain. Nonetheless, the best of the weather is again expected in the North and North West, including Scotland. Average temperatures are, however, forecast around or slightly above normal, which should benefit soil temperatures.


Slower planting typically means more imports

Although it is still early in the planting period, we can start to look at what impacts delays to planting might have if they continue. Looking historically, there has typically been a relationship between planting pace and imports in July-September, as shown below.

The chart above compares fresh potato imports (excluding seed) in July-September with the date at which GB planting progress exceeded 100,00ha since 2010. A later date reflects a slower planting pace, while an earlier date indicates more rapid planting progress. 2012 was clearly an extreme year, but looking at the other years there has been as much as 40,000t of variation in imports over these three months.

UK fresh imports are always at their highest in late spring (e.g. 41% of total UK fresh imports in 2015 arrived between April and June), but a slower planting pace can lead to greater than usual import levels in July to September by delaying when the GB crop becomes available on the market. The need for increased imports generally becomes weaker by the end of September, with the maincrop harvest underway in earnest.

The effects of this are most likely to be felt for those buying or selling during that period. Given the volumes we are talking about, a higher import level in July-September is unlikely to have a major knock-on effect on markets later in the season, although could have a very slight impact in compressing the selling period for the main GB crop.

The exact level and mix of imports can of course also depend on availability, prices and the planting/lifting pace overseas. This may influence whether more supplies are sourced from France or from Mediterranean countries in this period. For instance, a higher July-September import requirement could slightly inflate the otherwise limited impact of restrictions to imports of potatoes from mainland Spain.

Any remaining old crop stocks could also reduce import needs in the event of a delayed planting campaign, although these were already at a three-year low in our latest stocks release.

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