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Higher imports but UK exports also up year-on-year

Publication Date: 
22 April 2016

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

GB total potato imports for the July-February period were up 5% on the same period last year, according to latest HMR&C data. This reflects the smaller crop in 2015/16 and therefore the tighter domestic supply situation. In contrast, exports were slightly higher than for the same period last year, reflecting the import demand resulting from smaller crops elsewhere. For both imports and exports, the season so far (July to February) is largely mirroring the 2013/14 season, when production levels were similar.

Frozen potato products imports rise

Looking at imports by type, imports of frozen potato products continued to increase, with volumes for the season so far at the highest level since at least 2010/11. These have increased by 30% over the past 6 seasons. AHDB is currently working with industry to determine what is driving this and identify should, if and how GB can address this competition.

Fresh imports tend to fluctuate due to their direct relationship with domestic availability.  This can be seen for the season so far as fresh imports show a slight uplift, up 13% compared to the same period last year, consistent with the tighter supply situation this season. 

Unexpected rise in exports

Given the tighter supply situation, many may have expected fresh potato exports to fall this season. However, fresh exports have actually seen an increase for the season so far, up by 33% (34Kt) on the same period last year. This has been driven by a year on year increase in fresh exports to the Netherlands. However, last year a large NEPG production influenced reduced import requirements for these countries. It is often the case that UK fresh export levels are more closely related to crop sizes elsewhere than in the UK.  

Seed exports for the period, July to February decreased by one fifth compared to the previous year.  This was mainly as a result of changes to the Egyptian seed import decree late last year changing the maximum seed tuber size from 60mm down to 55mm. This happened in August which was too late to make any cultural adjustments to last year’s crop which could have favoured smaller tubers. However, it is expected that figures will return to normal for next season as UK growers will adjust their agronomy to the new tuber size.

Domestic supply is reported to be falling short of demand in some GB potato sectors, supporting average prices at their highest level since the start of 2013/14. Coupled with competitive prices for alternative supplies abroad, this is resulting in widespread reports of purchasing looking further afield to meet their needs. How import levels in the remainder of the season pan out will hence depend on how much more purchasers need, how much GB crop is available and whether imports remain price competitive. End-March GB stocks figures, due to be released next month, will give an indication of this. Furthermore, any further changes in the value of sterling will also drive import and export progress.

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