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European supplies tighten and planting delayed

Publication Date: 
6 May 2016

Sara Maslowski, Senior Analyst, sara.maslowski@ahdb.org.uk, 02476 478 953

Unseasonably cold, wet weather has delayed planting in most North-west European Potato Growing (NEPG) regions (GB, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium) according to reports from members. On the continent, stocks are reportedly on the low side, although generally thought adequate to last the season. Demand is strong, reported to be bolstered by increased export demand from GB for chipping varieties.

The expectation of a late start to the 2016/17 season and tight old crop supply is adding support to prices both at home and in mainland Europe, as shown in the chart below.

NEPG members reported that they expected to see plantings on mainland Europe increase for 2016/17 but it’s too early to know by just how much. Planting in these countries is not yet complete and most official estimates will not be ready for another couple of months. Drivers of increased expected plantings in North-west Europe include this season’s strong prices as well as increasing demand from processors (resulting in more contracts being offered).

While the delays to planting could mean next season starts late, assuming average yields (if weather in the growing season is ‘typical’) together with an increased area would suggest a better-supplied market for 2016/17 than for this season. Arguably, given that 2015 NEPG yields were around average, the current strong price levels could be seen as a genuine market incentive to increase total NEPG area. The eventual impact on next season’s prices depends importantly on just how strong the reaction is, as well as how the growing season pans out.

See below for updates by country…

 

Stocks

According to REKA, in Germany availability of fresh potato stocks from cold stores varies considerably by region. However, supply is being managed by trading potatoes between regions. Quality is generally good. There is a similar picture for processed potatoes, with also enough stock to carry through to the end of the season by selling between regions.

In the Netherlands, generally quality in store is good. According to VTA, stocks are around the five-year average level. However, factories are being cautious, with a lower level of rejections due to concerns that they may need to rely on old crop supply for two more weeks than expected due to the delay in planting - see later. Phaff Export Marketing report that some growers with good quality stocks are reluctant to sell at current prices.

UNPT report that stocks in France (as of end-February) were down 300,000t on the same period last year, at 1.62Mt compared to 1.96Mt. There are reported to be less processing stocks available but demand is higher. For example, demand from GB has recently increased for chipping varieties such as Markies.

In Belgium, stocks as of 1 April were estimated at 1.29Mt – the highest level ever estimated for the time of year. However, it is worth remembering that this is against a backdrop of rising production there, making longer term comparisons a little difficult. The high stocks are estimated to last until mid-July according to FIWAP. Around half the remaining stock is reported to be of the variety Bintje, which has typically been less popular among buyers than newer varieties but has become more widely bought in the last few weeks due to limited supplies of alternatives.

 

Demand

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, there is a good export demand, particularly from GB in the Belgian case. Prices on offer from GB are sometimes more attractive to growers than those offered by mainland processors. Belgian Challenger and Markies for export were €160-170/t ex-farm, while Dutch Chipping Agria and Markies for export were €180-200/t ex-farm (both for week ending 22 April).

French fresh export volumes from August 2015-February 2016 were around the same level as last year (864,616t) although down more than 100,000t on the same period in 2012/13 and 2013/14. The recent demand from GB has not shown up in French export figures yet, but would be expected to impact on March/April export data. Best quality Markies were reportedly moving for export at €220-250/t (week ending 22 April).

 

Planting progress

In Germany, progress varies considerably by region. Around 70% of potatoes are planted in Lower Saxony, Germany’s largest potato growing region. Of those set so far, a slight increase in processing varieties has been noted. In Bavaria 60-70% of area is planted, with total area there expected to increase, in particular to fulfil processing demand. In Pfalz and the Rhineland, 95% of area was planted, with development of early potatoes around one week behind typical progress. Conditions during planting were generally good. There has been an increase in plantings of processed varieties in the Rhineland.

In Belgium, according to FIWAP, by 28 April around 90% of the early potato area was planted. This is around 2-4 weeks behind typical progress. Maincrop planting was around 30-35% complete.

According to VTA, in the Netherlands about 60-70% of planted is reported to be complete on lighter soils, compared to around 40-50% on clay soils. This is about two weeks behind planned progress.

In general, early fresh potatoes in France are reported to be slightly late but not causing concern. French earlies are expected to come onto the market in June or July.  However, maincrop plantings are well behind last year. By the end of April around 60% of the area was planted compared to 90% at the same point last year.

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