The Euro Potato report compiled by UK Potato Council and edited by Rob Burrow highlights numerous challenges the 2008 crop has already had to face from the impact of severe rainfall in late planting and in some European countries, difficult harvesting schedules.
The March issue of the report said the growing season saw the potential for disease problems to emerge, including wet rots and skin blemishes, which increased the risk for long term storage. There was also an unexpected bonus for some growers in terms of average yield per hectare in some countries, particularly the Netherlands and GB. The final analysis however resulted in a large volume of potatoes without storage capacity and of poor quality, or suspect crops which required urgent movement. This urgency to make a sale has seen significant downward pressure on the Northern European maincrop sector throughout the current trading period, rather than for any recession reasons.
According to the Euro Potato report, in the current uncertain financial climate, particularly with tighter credit and costs increasing, cash flow, particularly for small enterprises, is still a growing concern throughout the whole supply chain. In approaching the 2008 season economists forecast increases in the cost of production to the extent of 15-25% depending upon forward buying of key inputs such as seed, fertiliser and energy. The outlook for growers selling "Free Buy" stocks in today's market is mainly one of negative returns. In
contrast, it has been encouraging that more forward thinking sectors have adopted a shared risk approach to supply contracts, particularly in GB. Also rising unemployment and a decrease in consumer spending will make staple foods, including potatoes, more attractive in volume terms.
Current demand in the fresh sector for "Value Type" potatoes is one impact of the credit crunch. Major retailers in all Northern European countries, with the exception of Germany, appear to be making a push to offer customers discounted product lines, due to the general economic downturn and as a way of competing with discounter stores. The consequence of yield results and the subsequent market price will be more clearly illustrated when growers and their financiers evaluate the potential "Risk versus Reward" in the 2009 season. Potato growers are likely to continue the recent trend for protectionism by securing market and price through contract arrangements or to committed purchasers. Major potato purchasers also increased own production last year to secure a sound supply base; it remains to be seen whether a similar situation will occur for the 2009 European crop.