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Limited impact on UK market from Epitrix controls

Publication Date: 
24 March 2016

Arthur Marshall, Analyst, arthur.marshall@ahdb.org.uk, 02476 478 956

In response to the establishment of the Epitrix beetle on the Spanish mainland, UK authorities have legislated for all fresh potatoes imported from there (excluding the Balearic Islands) to be washed prior to export. As a result, the risk of breakdown in transit, as well as additional costs involved, is likely to restrict the volume of potatoes from mainland Spain entering the UK this year. However, the amount involved and alternatives mean that this is unlikely to have a substantial effect on the GB market overall.

UK imports from Spain typically peak in the May-July period. This is also the peak period for UK fresh imports overall, given the changeover from domestic old crop to new crop, so there is the potential for any impact on supplies to affect the UK market during this time. Over these three months in 2015, the UK imported around 16,000t of Spanish potatoes (from both mainland Spain and the Balearics), 18% of total UK fresh potato imports in this period.

UK imports from mainland Spain, principally Andalusia, are usually destined for the chip shop trade, while Majorca (unaffected by the legislation) is a supplier of new potatoes to the GB fresh market. We cannot get exact figures on the balance of imports from mainland/Balearic sources, but imports recorded as new potatoes compared to other fresh potato imports can give some clues.

The graph below shows UK potato imports from Spain, split by new potatoes and other fresh potatoes.

Impact for the chipping sector

If chipping imports from mainland Spain are restricted, the impact on the GB market depends on access to alternative sources of crop. Typically, there are many other sources available, not least nearby North-West European Potato Growing (NEPG) countries (France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany). Excluding new potatoes, the UK imported more from the NEPG in May-Jul 2015 than from Spain. Although NEPG production in 2015 was down year-on-year at a little over 25Mt, it remained above the 5-year average, which is likely to limit impact on the GB market.

That said, price trends suggest that the GB chipping market is already tightening this season which could increase the reliance on imported supplies towards the end of the season. Similar reports elsewhere in north-west Europe reduce potential alternatives, which may mean that the GB market would need to look further-afield for chipping supplies. In these circumstances, Spain would usually be an option. It is too early to know for certain at this point, but this is where any impact on the GB market could be felt. 

 

Impact for new potatoes

The impact on the new potato segment, given that these are at least partly sourced from Majorca, could be quite limited. Even if a substantial portion of UK new potato imports from Spain are coming from the mainland, UK demand from Spain is relatively small - only around 18% of UK new potato imports were from Spain last year. There are also already a number of other well-established sources of new potatoes available for import to GB such as Cyprus and Israel. The UK imported around 4,500t of Spanish new potatoes in June 2015 according to HMR&C – just 5% of total new potatoes exported by all EU countries (to all destinations).

However, UK new potato import demand varies depending on domestic crop progress and spring weather conditions etc., so again it is too early to know for certain.

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