UK potato prices 50% higher than season norm

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UK potato prices are on average 50% higher than expected for this time in the season and have the potential to increase further, say industry sources.

Poor weather conditions leading to problems harvesting have pushed 25kg bags of Sagitta to between £11-£13 and Agria around £12 -£14. Some traders predict these prices could double, reaching £28 a bag if conditions do not improve.

Stuart Mitchell, managing director at Mitchells Potatoes, one of the largest wholesale merchants for chipping potatoes, says the season started well and that despite the UK planted area for potatoes having dropped by around 10% year on year, yields were around average. However, he says the wet autumn has caused problems both in the UK and other potato growing areas of the continent.

“Waterlogged soil prevents growers from getting harvesting equipment and tractors into the field to lift the potatoes,” he explains. “Potatoes stuck in waterlogged soil are prone to bacterial rot.”

Recent reports state that there are between 1 and 3 million tonnes stuck in the ground in northern Europe. The entire UK crop is estimated at 4.25 million tonnes as a point of comparison.

“The good news is that some lifting progress has been made this week although progress is slow,” says Stuart. “It’s unlikely that growers will be able to lift all potatoes before winter weather conditions set in. This will put further upward price pressure on the market in the coming weeks and months.”

As well as availability, the other challenge fish and chip shops face is quality. Stuart adds: “Quality may also be an issue, fry colours this year do not appear to be as good as usual. Potatoes will be damaged in the difficult harvesting conditions leading to a poorer peeling yield through bruising.”

At last week’s potato industry event in Harrogate, Stuart reported some traders predicting season highs of up to £28 per 25kg bag.

“However, with lacklustre demand, it remains to be seen whether we will reach such dizzy heights,” he adds.

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