Exclusive: Poor Weather Conditions Could Affect the Availability of Potato Products
Nearly all over Europe, climate change has become the issue in social and traditional media. The effect of last summer, which has been extremely dry and hot in one part and very wet in another part of Europe has probably also triggered the discussions. In the most important potato growing areas in Europe (UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium), the effect on the potato crop and the relations in the potato value chain cannot be ignored.
By Romain Cools, secretary general Belgapom/Vice President of World Potato Congress
Because of the fact that last winter did not bring sufficient rain, the water reserves at the start of the new season are showing a deficit. Authorities in the concerned countries are looking at new initiatives to save water, on the one hand, and supply water reserves on the other one. The weather conditions of last year have often been compared to the ones in the hot summer of 1976. One thing seems to be accepted as a result of the climate change: longer periods of drought or rain seem to be almost a certainty.
The impact on processed potatoes
The impact of the potato crop on processed potato products cannot be denied. First of all, there has been a quality effect: smaller tubers, quality problems on some varieties (e.g. glassy tubers) and storage problems. European fries have been shorter this season, which is for some markets a problem. The future of some varieties could be under pressure as they have been suffering from glassiness and storage problems. And of course, the lower availability has put pressure on the contract relations in the value chain and has increased free market prices with 1O times compared to last season.
This will have an effect on the availability of potato products in the shops and food service and could affect prices. Next to this, the export position of the EU potato processing industry compared with their cross Atlantic competitors could also be under pressure. Although also in Canada and the US the 2018 potato crop seemed no big hit either. Final conclusions will be made at the end of the season. One extra element resulting from this is the expected shortage of seed potatoes for next season, as also this crop has been affected by the growing conditions. It is not clear yet whether the announced usage of farm saved seed will fill the possible gap on the markets.
The most affected European countries
Though the 5 big EU producing countries have been hit by the weather conditions, Belgium seemed to have suffered the most. In the Walloon regions some potato fields have not got one single drop of rain last summer and the irrigation capacity in my country is rather limited, contrary to the Netherlands. But also, the North of France and some parts of Germany suffered. The UK seemed to have been hit the least, but this is not a potato exporting country.
The complete article is available in the March-April 2019 issue of Potato Processing International.