Scotland sits on a store of potatoes, awaiting better days

Almost half of the Scottish potato crop was still in grower-held stores at the end of January according to the latest Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board estimate.

The total volume of potatoes in British grower’s stores was 2.11 million tonnes, 39% of total production. This is 47.4 thousand tonnes lower than in January 2020, but 40.86Kt higher than the five-year average. Of this, 61% is already sold, either on pre-season contracts or as a forward sale.

Scotland accounted for 29% (608.7Kt) of what remained in grower ownership at the end of January. This represents almost half of total Scottish potato production still in store and more than at the same point last year.

Those growing seed face political uncertainty around exports to the EU.

Senior analyst for potatoes at AHDB, Alice Bailey, said: “While there was a slight uplift in production in Scotland, much of the Scottish area is grown for seed production. Therefore, slower seed sales may account for some of this volume. There have been reports that many growers delayed their seed orders this year whilst deciding what to plant, seemingly awaiting some positive news for the industry as the coronavirus story pans out.”

Grower’s decisions on what to plant this spring will be based on their view of what market conditions might be from late summer onwards – and while those growing for the domestic ware market face uncertainty due to demand, those growing seed face political uncertainty around exports to the EU.

AHDB’s head of potato export trade development, Patrick Hughes, said that although the UK and EU continued to discuss equivalence for seed potatoes, it was 'very unlikely' that a future trade deal in seed potatoes will be in place prior to seed crop planting for the 2021 season.

“This leaves the sector facing difficult decisions around their planting arrangements for 2021," said Mr Hughes. "Seed potatoes specifically scheduled for EU export will either not be planted or will be significantly reduced and a greater emphasis placed on supplying the domestic or alternative international markets.”

However, there might be a boost for 2020's ware crop as the year progresses. Spuds have seen strong performance at supermarkets in the last quarter, with volume sales up 13.9% on 2019, and there is hope that a summer with fewer restrictions on hospitality businesses and a UK ‘staycation’ boom could drive late-season demand.

Ms Bailey said that, with the bulk of any uplift coming as the market switches from old to new season crop, the data suggested what is currently in store will cover any demand rise: “There is now a light at the end of the tunnel for many within the industry. A return of hospitality and the foodservice sector in the coming months are providing hope for increased trade.

With stocks slightly higher than previous years, it is likely that growers have the volume of potatoes to cover it – assuming that the quality holds.”

Source: The Scottish Farmer