UPDATE ON FRESH POTATO SITUATION & PROCESSING IN NORTH-WESTERN EUROPE

Situation of old season’s potatoes in the barns

Quality level is still acceptable for processing and sugar contents remain under control.
The available volume of pre-contracted potatoes is shrinking pretty fast and farmers claim higher prices for spot deals. In the BeNeLux we now note 25 €/100 kg ex farm.
That is about twice as high as in September last year…..
It is expected that all fresh potatoes of harvest season 2021/22 will be processed by the beginning of July.

Situation of new season’s potatoes

When compared to last year an extra 10-15% of early varieties have been planted. Those potatoes cannot be stored and must be consumed or processed immediately after being harvested.
About main crop varieties no figures are available yet, as farmers are still planting at this moment. It is expected that the total acreage will not exceed the past 5-years average.
Major cause of concern at this moment : lack of rainfall. In Belgium and South of Holland we are passing the driest springtime since over 50 years. Weatherforecasts at this moment do
not expect any significant rainfall for the next 15 days, which could seriously jeopardize both parts of harvest : early varieties and main crop. As a result of it, the future’s markets have gone into red alert and prices for April 2023 have passed 25 €/100 kg ex farm already. This should be interpreted as : both farmers and actors in the market are most worried about possible lower outputs and are investigating into getting covered on long term.

Situation at processing

The side-effects of the war in Ukraine remain playing a very important role in potato processing :

The sudden interruption of deliveries of sunflower oil jeopardizes continuity of processing in nearly all European potato processing factories (frozen french fries). As production of potato flakes in most cases is linked to production of prefried frozen french fries, the possibility of lower output is also valid for flakes and granules production.

Alternative oils prices obviously have reacted on the shortage of sunflower oil and have reached levels which are over 50% higher than in the beginning of the year.

The use of alternative oils (rapeseed, soy, palm) is not obvious for several reasons. Blending oils created a number of technical issues which cannot be solved in a short span of time. The pure use of alternative oils -wherever possible- creates problems with nutritional values, taste, texture and declarations on the packaging. Possible corrections easily require 3-4 months of time and most European governments have accepted to keep using the declaration of sunflower oil also for products prefried in other oils, prevailing a clear indication for end users is given at the point of sale. How this will be done in practice is not clear at this moment.

The availability of alternative oil is far from clear : Indonesian government has imposed an export embargo on palm oils in order to avoid sky high price increases for their local consumers. Even Malaysia does not have enough overcapacity to cover the unexpected gap created by sunflower oil and the logistics are not available to bring such huge quantities to Europe over such a short span of time. rices for natural gas after reaching unseen levels in the past weeks and months have eased down since Gazprom officials declared not to have any intention to cut off supplies to Europe. Still there is an atmosphere of suspicion if there is not a hidden agenda behind those words. The smallest comment or fact has an immediate double digit impact on the price level.

Electric power follows the trend as set by natural gas. When less gas is used, more electricity is used, so the price fixing is very clear but opportunistic.

Price for diesel (> 2 €/liter) is regularly breaking new all times’ records, so that road transport of fresh potatoes, packing materials, oils, etc…..has become a worrying and unreliable factor, especially when linked to the always valid shortage of experienced truck drivers.

Situation in transport

Considerably higher diesel prices and their effect have been mentioned above.
China’s zero-Covid-strategy is causing a major shock wave in intercontinental ocean freight once again. Over 500 container vessels got stuck as the port of Shanghai is as good as unaccessible. It will affect the global availability of empty containers and shipping lines will cancel many journeys after taking a number of vessels out of operation during an unknown period of time.
From the past months we have learnt what this will mean : further increases of ocean freight and unstability in transport as such.

Result

The markets remain extremely nervous not only because of present situation of full occupation of processing capacity even at very high cost price level, but also anticipating on possible fundamental problems at the start of the new potato season. Putting everything together there should not be much hope for fast decreasing prices for any type of potato products in the new season.

UPDATED SITUATION FROZEN FRENCH FRIES & DEHYDRATED POTATO PRODUCTS

Most potato processing factories have come out with new contract prices for purchasing fresh potatoes of harvest season 2022/23 (intake between July 2022
and June 2023). The global situation in agriculture in combination with the fast increasing costs for planting, growing and warehousing fresh potatoes have led farmers
to reconsider planting potatoes in general. As a matter of fact, alternative cultures such as wheat, corn generate better income levels, so that for the first time in
decades the culture of potatoes is being put in a balance against alternative cultures. A similar effect has been seen in connection with the culture of vegetables for the processing
industries, where angry farmers have blocked access to several factories with the aim to emphasize the need for higher prices.
The war in Ukraine will result in considerably lower availability of wheat for bakeries, so that Western farmers will surely be attempted to increase their acreage of wheat and cereals.
Meanwhile some processing companies have come out with price increases as much as 15-20%, but this offer was mainly declined by farmers’ organisations, calling their
members to refrain from growing potatoes, so that shortages would lead to an automatic increase in price for all potato products. Exact figures are expected end of
April or early May, but this is an essential factor to bear in mind for the future. Not to forget that 2 kg of fresh potatoes are needed to produce 1 kg of fries and 6-7 kg potatoes
for 1 kg of flakes…..

The war in Ukraine not only has an immediate effect on prices for (Russian) natural gas supplied to Europe and electricity as an alternative source of energy, but also are supplies of
sunflower oil (seeds are grown and processed in Ukraine) seriously limited at this moment. Demand for Malaysian RSPO palm oil on the world market is so high, that spot purchases are as good as impossible.
As a consequence it is not excluded that the entire Western European potato processing industry will have to slow down processing facing lack of frying oils.

Just to fresh up your memory:

spot prices for natural gas : + 420 % since September 2021;

electricity : no shortage, but price follows the trend of natural gas;

labour cost : high level of absenteism, caused by Covid infections, and shortage of classified labour have led to inimaginable competition between employers with the only purpose to keep or acquire the higher quality of staff;

– Western Europe faces a permanent shortage of over 15 000 truck drivers; often vehicles stand still simply because there are no drivers available;

– higher costs for packing materials and pallets > the impact of this factor, although considerable, meanwhile has become of minor importance, in view of the above;

unreliable shipping lines which change journeys overnight and add increases and surcharges at any time and for whichever reason – ocean freight must be reconfirmed on a weekly basis in order to avoid bad surprises; no pay no cure……

It is clear that we have not seen the end of this season yet and very dark clouds hanging over the entire industry will surely affect global business in potato products even more than before.
We recommend vigilance and alertness.

UPDATE FRESH POTATOES HARVEST SEASON 2021/22

Medio November the NEPG (the North-Western European potato growers association) managed – after a rather difficult harvesting season – to make a first attempt of
season’s evaluation.
After one of the wettest summers in the past decades the harvesting conditions in most countries were far from ideal, exception made for France where lifting
activities were accomplished smoothly and fast.
In many areas growers postponed harvesting hoping for better weather conditions, but additional rainfall made circumstances even worse. Between end of September
and early November, most potato harvesters worked at 60 to 70% of their capacity only.

Generally speaking the gross output in the various countries is average to good, with serious geographical variations though.
The expectations, however, is that net output will be lower as a result of considerable losses on the fields as a result of excessive rainfall. Morover the presence of
hollow harted tubers, cloven ones is considerably higher than previous years. Last but not least the storage can also create a percentage of losses, but it’s too early
to judge this at this moment.

In 2021 the total acreage in the EU-4 (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany) shrank by 24 000 hectares from 522 000 to 498 000 hectares. Production is expected
to be in the area of 22,7 million tons, what is 700 000 tons less than in 2020.
This reduction in output volume, together with an increased demand for exports of potato products, brings a certain balance between supply and demand.
Processing factories are facing problems to build up stocks to normal operational levels again. Ongoing problems in supplies are caused by slower intakes, fast growing
processing costs (energy, frying oils, packing materials, labour), whereas the export remains depending upon a possible revival post Covid-19 worldwide.
In spite of the uncertainties mentioned, most insiders expect well balanced markets throughout the season.

In the past 12 months production costs for growers have gone up steeply. The price paid for diesel and electricity break all times records and also fertilizer became
very expensive. Not to forget the ongoing upward spiral of costs for plant protection products…
At the same time prices paid for cereals and colza have gone up considerably, so that potato growers have more and less riskfull alternatives to take into consideration.
Growing potatoes entails more and more risks, both financial (fast increasing production costs) and in relation to changing climatic conditions.

The NEPG expects that contract prices paid by the processing industry for season 2022/23 will have to be 3-4 €/100 kg higher in order to keep growers’ interest alive.
Lack of better prices paid to growers could lead to a further reduction of acreage, which in turn would have an effect on prices of finished products.

UPDATE FRESH POTATO SITUATION ON JULY 8th 2021

Lower total potato area in EU-04

The total potato area within the NEPG zone (EU-04) has been reduced by 4,7%. Potato area in EU-04 declines from 522.300 ha to 497.700 ha (-24.600 ha). There was a decrease in all countries, but most in Belgium and the Netherlands
who had the highest increases in area these last years, are also the only ones with a lower hectarage than the 5 year average (see chart)!
This is an historical event, because area has usually gone up year after year for the last 2 decades… Nonetheless, it is much more the production per ha than the potato area which will make the total 2021 harvest.
Second half of season 2020-2021 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 deliver processors who were not on the market.

Still a lot of unknowns

Be it the earlies or the maincrop, the list of unknowns is still considerable. 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.
In all countries potato plants have developed a lot of leaves, but tubers are much smaller than on average. “A lot of haulm, no tubers” is a remark often heard. Tuberization in maincrop varieties seems higher than what was the case the last 3 or 4 years.
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 a drought, maincrop varieties could be affected
much more quickly than was the case the last years, because plants did not make a lot of roots.
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.

Higher production costs and new 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 building: insulation material, concrete, steel and wood have also dramatically increased.
Growers are very much aware of new challenges too: 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!

EU-04 CONSUMPTION POTATOES (excl. Seed and Starch potatoes) on 8-7-2021

YEAR201620172018201920202021today vs5-yeartoday vs
last yearaverage5-yr avrge
Countries in NEPG
Acreage 5-yrs average494 052494 052494 052494 052494 052494 068
Annual variation5,50%6,50%2,20%4,20%2,30%-5,00%
Total surface454 438483 766494 538515 531521 985497 683-4,70%494 0521,00%
Belgium91 36895 34694 42897 92196 98589 053-8,20%95 210-6,00%
Germany164 500174 400178 500186 000189 700183 060-3,50%178 6202,00%
France125 250137 720145 260152 720158 590153 840-3,00%143 9087,00%
Netherlands73 32076 30076 35078 89076 71071 730-6,50%76 314-6,00%
Source : North-western European Potato Growers (NEPG)

UPDATE FRESH POTATO SEASON 2021/22

With a few more weeks to go in the old season 2020/21, a lot of attention is being paid to the size of the season 2021/22.
Not only had farmers’ associations called for a considerably lower acreage of potatoes, but also for a fundamental review of exploitation costs of growing, harvesting and
warehousing fresh potatoes for the processing industries (frozen and dehydrated).
In reality only 3-5% less surface had been planted (mainly early varieties), according to NEPG (North-Western European Potato Growers).
It shows once again how difficult it is for farmers to reach an agreement on border crossing sectorial level.

Weather conditions during the planting time was not particularly favorable : there was late frost and the soil was too cold, so that within the first 2-3 weeks after being put into the ground,
the seeding potatoes did not show any sign of new life.
The entire month of May, though, has given soft rainfall almost every day and a warmer period is announced for the first half of June. This is ideal weather for the potato
to further sprout, grow and develop nice and a healthy leaf structure and finally formation of tubers.

Potato processing industries have had to pay a bit more for long term contracts with farmers. Together with sharply increased cost prices for poly-ethylene packing materials,
paper for carton boxes and wood for pallets, it will undoubtfully lead to increased prices on relatively short term. How pricing will be on 12- or 6-months’ basis is still a bit
too early to predict and directly linked to how the plant will further develop during the month of June.

Further studies and test cases will have to be made in order to better monitor the warehousing of ware potatoes in September and October, without the traditional
anti-sprouting products. The passed season has given proof of the fact that this matter still requires serious improvement.
Facing climatic challenges, such as dry and hot summers, is another aspect that could have an impact on cost pricing. The past 3-4 summers have shown how big the impact
of lack of water during the critical months of June/July can be on the total output and the spot market prices. Irrigation is the word, but in 2021 this process has become
very costly, so that both farmers and processing industries must take it into account when studying cost prices.

UPDATED SITUATION FRESH POTATOES

As informed in previous news flash, this is the first season (harvest season 2020/21) in which the use of CIPC derivated sprout inhibitors is strictly forbidden by the EU.
Some 3 months after the first intake of freshly harvested potato tubers, there are clear indications that the alternative sprout inhibitors are not as efficient as the products containing CIPC.

Already at this moment farmers in Belgium, the Netherlands and France are reporting sprouting activity on the tubers in their air conditioned stores.
Bearing in mind that neither the fresh market, nor the processing industry can make use of potato tubers showing sprouts, there is a good deal of likelihood that the entire industry
will be facing another nightmare in the following weeks and months. Especially once winter is over and the outside temperature starts climbing up again, there will be no possibility to
stop tubers from sprouting and start a self-deterioration process.

When taking possible losses of volumes of available fresh potatoes into account on top of the fact that farmers are expected to plant some 15% less acreage in the new season 2021/22, we
would not be surprised if March/April brings a complete turnaround in today’s situation of potato products. We recommend our customers to remain extremely vigilant.
Last but not least the ocean freight has become very unstable on all lines due to reduced amounts of empty containers resulting in sharply increased seafreights.
As 1+1+1 = 3, we do not exclude sudden price increases in springtime 2021.

UPDATE FRESH POTATO SITUATION ON NOVEMBER 3rd

The NEPG (North-Western European Potato Growers) estimates that the total harvest will be 27.9 million tons this season if all potatoes in the ground will be indeed harvested.
The harvest is later than usual with all the risks involved and there are still some potatoes in challenging wet areas in Western Belgium and Great Britain. This is 4,5 % or 1 million tons more than last season in the 5 leading potato countries.
The NEPG considers that the growers in the North-Western EU will plant totally 15 % less next spring.

Due to Covid-19 the worldwide demand for processed potato products decreased enormously and the actual demand for raw material from the factories is about 85 % compared to last season, before the pandemic. The actual low free-buy price level for processing potatoes is emphasizing this.

Volume reduction of the contracts

European and Northern American potato processors have large stocks of ready products in their cold-stores and need less raw material for a longer period. It is expected that they will reduce their next year’s contracts in volume with the growers and have hardly interest in free potatoes.

Due to the actual cost of growing and storing potatoes a reduction of the contract prices is not expected. Over the last 5 years, the NEPG growers increased their consumption potato area by 7.7 %.

The increase in France was almost 14 % and Germany 10 %, however, also the other countries increased their area. This increased area is an enormous contrast compared to the slower growth of the demand for raw material by the factories, and reduction since the Covid-19 situation.

With the upcoming second lockdowns in several countries, the NEPG expects no changes over the upcoming season. On top of this also the result of the Brexit discussions could influence the market.

Transition season

Due to new regulations for storage (ban of CIPC, introduction, and use of ‘new’ sprout control products), especially the longer storage this upcoming season can be considered as challenging, a transition year.

The availability of some new anti-sprouting materials is lower than what growers need, and their use is more expensive and more difficult (adapted warehouses, gasing equipment,…) technically than with CIPC.

The NEPG expects that fewer growers will go for the extreme long storage and it is strongly advised to re-calculate the cost-price before signing any contract.

Current affairs

Dear valued Customers, 

In the context of Corona-virus (Covid-19), we would like to inform you that more and more transport compagnies no longer allowtheir drivers to help loading and unloading their cargo in order not to carry forward any infection.  They are allowed only to open and close the doors of the trailers with gloves and mask on and check loading/unloading from a protected place. 
We kindly ask for respect of internal labour prescriptions of each individual company which is doing its best to protect its workers and members of staff.
Thank you for understanding and cooperation. 

How a national issue can become a global problem…

How a national issue can become a global problem...

In autumn 2019 it was described that international shipping lines had been postponing investments in buying new reefer containers for several years…
Some sources indicate a real need of some 140000 units to cope with the demand from the entire world economy, whereas in reality some 60.000 units are estimated to be available. China’s booming economy has an exponential influence on international logistics and so has one of their main periods of celebration, the Chinese New Year. Not only does it mobilize the largest amount of people on earth (with an estimated 3 billion moves), but it also causes a peak in transport of goods towards the country.  Let that be the very period in which the Corona-virus started affecting public life in the country, causing an economic stand-still, deep-sea ports being overloaded with non-moving containers, ocean vessels not getting unloaded, etc…
Not more than 8 weeks later, there is a general ban on booking reefer containers for ports in the Far-East and shipping lines are parking empty vessels which no longer get the full amount of cargo loaded. Thousands and thousands of containers got stuck in China and Korea and the overall shortage is being felt on all continents : bookings are being canceled, reservations have become insecure, sea freight prices are going up by several hundreds of dollars at at time…. chaos is near…….
We try to give our customers correct background information, as much as we receive it from shipping lines. As soon as the situation in China clears up, it may take several weeks (months?) to get back to normal again….