2021 potato area set to decline?

Monday, 22 February 2021

The last 12 months have really taken their toll on potato markets. The coronavirus pandemic happened at one of the worst points within the potato growing cycle, and there was not much growers could do to reduce their area.

This led to pressure towards the end of 2019/20 marketing year, which meant that the average price of a ware potato ended at £179/t, down from £199/t in 2018/19.

With planting for 2021 near, many growers may be thinking of reducing their area for 2021. How much could the area reduce by?

Long-term reducing area

Due to consolidation within the potato industry, we are witnessing a downward trend year-on-year in potato area.

   

When a linear trend line is applied to the GB potato area, you can see that area is slowly decreasing over time. From 2002, the potato area has varied a maximum of 6Kha over the trendline or 9Kha under the trendline, as weather and market environment can cause the area to move away from this trend.

Sticking to the trendline the GB potato area for 2021 could be 115.6Kha, down by 2% year-on-year (y-o-y) but if we take the previous variation from the trendline this area could be between 106.7Kha and 121.7Kha.

With the current market climate, it is anticipated that the area will be below the trendline, as we are expected to see two successive low-priced years.

Sector breakdown

We can then use this trendline and apply this to each sector within the industry. With all sectors slowly on the downward trend apart from processing.

   

Price and area relationship

The second half of this analysis is going to look at the price and area relationship.

Weather dependant, in years when potato prices are pressured lower, the total GB area the following year reduces. When there is support in the market, the following year area increases.

Average ware potato prices throughout the 2020/21 season have been below the previous year. This will mean for two years running there has been pressure. The last time we saw this was in 2013 (-£79/t y-o-y) and 2014 (-£27/t y-o-y), and this meant that the area for 2015 reduced by 7.5%.

   

This graph shows the y-o-y area change against the previous year’s price change.

With WAPS prices at the moment averaging £168.00/t, behind last year’s total average by £9.00/t. By plotting a trendline we can see that the area could reduce mathematically by around 2.0-2.5%, which is displayed in the green circle. With WAPS weighted towards more packing and processing sectors mean the drop in bags and chipping could exceed the trend expectations.

Although there is a relationship between the average price and the total area. By using previous scenarios what could we expect to see on a sector and regional scale?

Sector

On a sector scale the variation in area year-on-year can depend significantly on the end market. With free-buy sectors more reactive to price volatility.

The most stable sector with the least variation in change is the processing sector. With the largest decrease being down 7% in 2020, and the largest increase being 4% year-on-year in 2016. The sector is relatively stable year-on-year, this is due to the market set up of this sector, which is predominantly on contract, and prices are predetermined.

   

The graph is showing the average potato ware price for that marketing year and the area change year-on-year. The closer the line is to 0% means there is less variation year-on-year.

In the graph above, fresh chipping shows a larger degree of volatility due to the free-buy nature that sector operates in. From a 9% area increase in 2016 to a 13% decrease in 2018.

Regional

As for regions, the area closely follows the price of the year before, but the variations can differ regionally.

For example, smaller growing areas such as the North East, North West & South West England have had the largest variance in potato area change since 2011, but these areas only accounted for 8% of total GB area in 2020.

 

The graph above shows the East and North West of England year-on-year area changes. The closer to 0% means there is less variation in that area.

In the North West, potato area increased by 11% following the high-priced year of 2012, but decreased by 22% in 2020, following the price drop in 2019 in comparison to 2018 high. The bad weather and poor lifting conditions in 2019 would have added to the 2020 reduction in area.

The East of England and the East Midlands potato areas show the least variation in area depending on prices and are relatively stable despite the market climate.

As you can see the North West’s area has been reducing since 2017 following a low-priced year. But the East of England stays relatively stable.

Conclusion

To conclude this analysis, the potato area for 2021 is expected to reduce, trends shows that the potato area is slowly shrinking and that added to the current market environment does not pose growers with the incentive to plant extra.

This will be two years running the average price of potatoes has dropped and with the current demand situation outlook bleak, we could see the area drop further.

Even though we are possibly expecting the area across the board to reduce. What we do know is that sectors that are free-buy focused will drop significantly more than contracts. But the watch point will be seeing if contracts for the processing sector reduce for 2021, as this could add to a significant reduction in area.

Furthermore, it is expected that the East Midlands and East of England will be relatively stable in area, but there are large potato regions that react significantly to the market climate, such West Midlands, Scotland and Yorks & the Humber. Sentiment for the market outlook could determine how far area reduces by.

Now we partly understand the demand situation from the coronavirus pandemic, the area for 2021 will be a key figure for dictating the market sentiment. A reduced area combined with potential weather issues could offer support in a market that will hopefully be regaining its demand throughout 2021 as we recover from the pandemic.

This information from the AHDB will be a watch point, but in the meantime be sure to check out Arable Market Intelligences analysis.

Image of staff member Anthony Speight

Anthony Speight

Analyst Cereals and Oilseeds

See full bio


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