While it is normal to start the plantings of the early crop in this period, the weather over the last few weeks in Northwest Europe, as well as relatively dry soil conditions, may lead to an earlier start when it comes to planting the main crop - we'll have to keep an eye on the conditions and see if this optimistic view continues.
Alongside planting, the old crop is still running for another three and a half months. The moderate yield of the 2016 crop - and the processing capacity expansion in Belgium and Holland - will cause the supply of raw material to be tight but we're hopeful the early availability of the new crop will lead to a smooth transition.
While supply seems tight, there is not a huge amount of daily trade so potato prices are stable. As long as no processors have any coverage issues, the situation should remain this way - although new demand from one or two processors can easily shake up the market due to the limited volume of free traded potatoes this year. Thankfully, when it comes to quality, there are no major issues.
Due to moderate yields, seed supply for the 2017 crop was also tight and it was a challenge to get the required volumes needed.
In response to the attractive and relatively high daily price levels of the 2016 crop, as well as the expanding processing capacity and the record high export volumes of frozen potato products, many farmers have expanded their potato acreage for the new crop season. Plus, the increased demand for raw material and the purchasing competition of processors led to higher contract prices for farmers in the new season. As a result, the potato industry is preparing for another dynamic period - a new season, a clean sheet, and new challenges and risks.
As with every new potato season, there are questions to be answered:
- Will the growing global demand endure and develop in line with the increased processing capacity?
- Will farmers harvest low, moderate or top yields?
One thing is for sure, there is never a dull moment with potatoes.
Jan Willem Peters