‘It is much more the production per hectare than the potato acreage that will be an important factor for the total 2021 harvest’, the North-western European Potato Growers (NEPG) states.
‘In all of the so-called EU-04 countries (Belgium, France, Germany and The Netherlands), potato plants have developed a lot of leaves, but tubers are much smaller than on average. The remark “A lot of haulm, no tubers” can often be heard. Tuberization in maincrop varieties seems higher than what was the case the last 3 or 4 years’, the association mentions.
Drought effects on maincrop varieties
Looking ahead, estimations of the total harvest are also depending on external factors such as rainfall and temperatures. ‘A high tuber count is usually a promise of a potential good harvest, but of course one needs enough water in August and September to fill and fatten all the tubers. Should we get a heat wave and/or drought, maincrop varieties could be affected much more quickly than was the case the last years, because plants did not develop many roots.’ NEPG also assigns an influential role to the effects of the global pandemic. ‘The Covid-19 situation, though developing more or less favourably, could still lead to different types of restrictions and thus slow down the demand in frozen chips and other potato products.’
The growers association recently announced that the total potato acreage within the NEPG zone has decreased by 4.7 percent, as the potato acreage in the EU-04 countries declined with 24,600 hectares, from 522,300 hectares to 497,700 hectares. While the acreage in all four countries decreased for this season, the decrease was the highest in Belgium and Netherlands. According to the NEPG press release, these two countries showed the highest acreage increase in the past few years, and are now the only two out of the EU-04 countries with a lower hectarage than their five-year average. The association of potato growers calls this a historical event, as they noticed that for the last two decades the acreage would usually go up year after year.
Looking back, NEPG indicates the second half of season 2020-2021 is marked by some traders buying at higher prices than the Belgapom quotation. ‘In some countries, mainly France and Belgium, growers remark that during the last 3 or 4 months, some traders bought at higher prices than the Belgapom Friday quotation, to then supply to processors who were not on the market’, the statement reads. ‘Be it the earlies or the maincrop, the list of unknowns is still considerable’, NEPG adds. ‘Concerning the earlies, heavy rainfall the last weeks could impede a rapid enough build-up of dry mater in the tubers. This could lead to some delays in the delivery of contracts and give some air to the last old potatoes from crop 2020.’
New challenges for growers
In the meantime, potato growers are facing several challenges. ‘Production costs for the 2021-2022 season are already building up: higher costs for blight (and other) sprays, higher energy prices (diesel and electricity), higher prices for fertilizers (liquid nitrogen saw its price double in a few months). Not to mention everything which has to do with the construction of new buildings: insulation material, concrete, steel and wood have also dramatically increased’, they state. Next to that, NEPG also observes growers’ awareness of new challenges: ‘More sustainable and robust varieties are needed, be it with more blight resistance, and higher drought and heat tolerances. Varieties which need less fertilizers and are more N-efficient are also needed’, the association concludes.
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