The Mintec Benchmark price for English white potatoes soared to an unprecedented £570/MT on April 16th, marking a staggering 90% increase compared to the previous year. This surge in price reflects tightening supply dynamics, prompting market sources to anticipate a continued upward trend in the months ahead.

Of particular significance is the pricing of Maris Piper potatoes, which have soared to £610/MT, marking an astounding 144% surge compared to the previous year. Despite this remarkable spike, trade activity for Maris Piper remains subdued across the UK due to constrained availability. Speculation is rife that the price of white potatoes may soon surpass that of Maris Piper before the 2024 harvest, as growers strategically withhold stocks in anticipation of further price escalations.

Meanwhile, import activity into the UK continues unabated, with ongoing shipments arriving from key sources including the EU, Israel, and Egypt. Notably, certain supermarkets have opted to remove the Union Jack from packaging, while white potato imports fetch prices ranging between £520/MT and £600/MT, reflecting disparities in quality.

As planting operations unfold, selected regions of England, particularly those with lighter soils, have commenced their activities, while Scotland is yet to initiate planting. Delays in planting could potentially impact the timing of the 2024 harvest, raising concerns among industry stakeholders.

Turning to the Ukrainian market, a shortage of quality potatoes has created challenges for wholesale companies and retail chains alike, struggling to meet escalating demand. This scarcity has provided farmers with an opportunity to increase prices for high-quality potatoes, with current shipments commanding 16-23 UAH/kg ($0.42-0.60/kg), marking a significant 14% increase from the previous week.

Driving the price surge is a diminishing supply of high-quality potatoes on Ukrainian farms coupled with surging demand. Even lower-quality products are fetching premium prices in this environment, with the average cost of potatoes in Ukraine now 2.8 times higher than in early March 2023. With the supply crunch exacerbating further, market operators brace for continued price escalations in the foreseeable future.

The outlook for May-July which traditionally marks the end of old season marketing in the UK and the cross over in mid July to Mid August to new season, looks set to see a continued tightening from the supply side. Certain varieties are now in extremely limited supply, that coupled with a lower than normal import availability from the mediterranean export countries, plant health concerns in Egypt and a tightening old crop position in the EU will only compound the current scenario.

It is highly likely that changes will be required to variety and country of origin specifications to ensure we keep the market supplied. We are currently working with customers to secure these variety approvals both to utilise more old season varieties from the EU and to open channels for new season imports. We are actively looking at importing new season potatoes from Spain, both loose skin for the new potato and salad market and set skinned when ready for the chipping sector. Programs from Israel are fixed and more limited than usual.

As we look towards new crops, we’ve made good progress with this season’s planting on lighter soils and free draining Wold land, and these potatoes have planted in better conditions than last season – we now just need some warmth to increase soil temperatures, which are currently below average to get the crop moving. In Cornwall and the West it’s a different story where the ground is still very wet and we are significantly behind on planting, with decisions being taken in some selected areas not to plant at all this season as crop in this area will be too late for its target market, and we have moved the seed to other regions to be planted closer to intended market- albeit recognising that it will be later in the marketing plan.

Heavy soils are still slow to dry and we have had to withdraw from some of our heavy land and move back onto the Wolds, to give the silts more time to dry. At time of writing- Sunday 28th of May we are 45% planted nationally across the AKP portfolio. We woke up to between 15 and 24 mm of rainfall this morning across all of our remaining planting areas which will now need a few dry days before our teams can resume 24 crop planting with the inevitability that a larger than normal percentage of the crop will be planted in May.

On a positive note we continue to keep our customers served, the supply chain and our partnerships are resilient and we are working together to make the best of a really difficult situation. We are harvesting and salvaging some of last year’s crop in both South and North Lincolnshire and recovering between 7 and 10 tonnes per acre (50%) which is just viable versus the cost in the current market.