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End-March 2016 GB Potato Stocks Estimate

Publication Date: 
11 May 2016

Amber Cottingham, Analyst, Amber.Cottingham@AHDB.org.uk, 02476 478698

GB potato stock levels at the end of March are estimated at 1Mt, around 300Kt less than the end-March 2015 estimate. The latest estimate is based on AHDB survey data that covers grower’s stocks only and does not include stocks held by purchasers. Furthermore, when considering comparisons, it is worth being aware that the error margin for the estimate is +/- 100Kt.

Although the end-March stocks this year are down on the previous year they remain in line with the lower level of production this season. The estimate suggests that the rate potatoes have left farm may have slightly decreased year-on-year but these changes are minor compared to the differences in production and prices.

So what does this mean?

The WAPS average and free-buy prices have both been increasing since mid-February and are at the highest at this point in the season since 2012/13, with free-buy at £233.28/t and the WAPS average at £214.16/t. This steep rise in prices has been caused by a number of factors; firstly, a genuine tight supply situation, recent concerns about the possibility of a late harvest and a lack of grower appetite to sell as market prices continue to rise. Add in to this the tough storage conditions this winter and it’s no surprise prices have risen.

GB is currently between two and three weeks behind average planting progress which could mean another late harvest. While cold stored stocks are holding well in store, they will need to remain in good condition for longer than normal to bridge the tricky summer period until the new crops are harvested. A similar situation is being reported in Belgium where their assessment of the stocks situation has shown that they won’t be able to bridge the gap and will have to either stop processing potatoes in the factories or import to fulfil requirements.

Since February there were regular reports of growers holding on to stocks, as they hoped for better prices, which seems to be corroborated in the depletion figures. In the Nov-Jan period drawdown levels were above the previous year but the latest figures, from Jan-March, they are now slightly less than the previous year. However given the error margins of the stocks survey, this conclusion must be treated with a level of caution. Increased reports of imports in the last two months could also support a slower depletion level, along with modest changes to specification in some markets.

Concluding comments

The latest estimate suggests GB potato stocks are at a similar level to 2013/14. This lower level than last season can be attributed to a smaller crop rather than increased demand this season. With the lateness of planting this year and the likelihood of a delayed harvest, it is unlikely that prices will drop as they did in May/June of 2013/14. However if the weather improves and crops can make up the growth progress they lost at the start of planting then the possibility of a normal harvest could subdue prices later in the season. The weather over the next few weeks and into the growing season will be crucial to determine the coming harvest and what this means for industry. All of these factors will be reported on in Potato Weekly as soon as new information becomes available.

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