High speculation and terrible campaign results for Andalusian potato producers have given rise to a safer working method.
Fruit Today Euromagazine talked to Marco Román, an executive from Contagri and the potato sector representative within Asociafruit.
How is the present early potato campaign coming along? Is the surface area still dropping in the different Andalusian areas?
This year we will have a delayed harvest since, due to the rainfall and the cold, the plants have not developed as they should. We estimate that the harvest will start around the 10th of May. Regarding the drop in surface area, we are in free fall, but I can’t be certain of the percentage. It has been an obvious trend for many years now. And a drop which, in some areas, could now reach two figures. The feeling I get is that the Spanish market is not interested in national production. Campaigns such as last year’s, when the farmers lost a great deal of money, mean that they abandon the crops for good.
Will the non-stop rainfall for days on end raise the cost prices?
Of course, this year the costs are going to shoot up due to the treatments that we must carry out to control mildew, and everything points towards the fact that the yield per hectare will be lower. It could be less than 40 tonnes per hectare.
Why do the large retail chains not opt for national produce?
Basically, this is due to the production costs. In Spain, the large packing plants are few and far between, and they prefer to purchase cheap, shiny produce, with a good appearance, but that has been in cold storage for months and the culinary behaviour of which leaves a great deal to be desired. This loop means that at the same time, potato consumption drops every year. Really, we miss a firm commitment by the chains and by the packing companies themselves to use new potatoes, but our costs are 8,500 euros per hectare and price is the priority.
What is really the safe haven for the companies that are still in operation?
Work on demand. There are increasingly fewer producers, but in the face of so much uncertainty we sow on demand with the volumes that we are requested for the programmes.
And at present, how is the French potato market behaving?
In general terms, Europe has had an overproduction, and obviously the French cold storage facilities still have potatoes to sell cheaper than ours. Last year they were sold until July, while the packing companies stored our potatoes. When the Castilla-Leon campaign started, we found that there were still stocks of Andalusian potatoes, which particularly affected the operators from Castilla. It was truly a perfect storm.
It is a paradox that Spaniards are eating stored potatoes from Northern France and potatoes from Southern Spain are being sold in Germany.
That is right. Local production and the carbon footprint are common topics, but it is all very theoretical because the commercial transactions respond to money interests. My company, for example, sells 16,0000 tonnes of produce in Europe because there is a potato culture there. It is a product that they appreciate and they are ready to pay more for fresh produce. The complete opposite of the Spanish market.