Potato, an expensive crisis

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In Belgium, the announcement in September of the reduction in the size of french fries, took on the air of state business. On this side of the border, no miracle is to be expected. The size of the recently harvested potatoes was not spared by the bad weather. French fries will also be shorter. As the Belgian media expert explained the coordinator of the Walloon potato industry, Patrick Lebrun, "in order to have 8 to 9 cm fries, we are working with tubers with a diameter of more than 50 millimeters. as the tubers are smaller, the fries will be smaller too. "

In France, an arithmetic problem comes to add to this geometrical reasoning. Smaller, the potatoes are going to be more expensive. All the northern European producing countries, which concentrate most of the crops, were hit by the drought this summer. Their association, North-Western European Potato Growers, estimates that the 2018 harvest will be down 18% from last year and 8% from the average of the past five years. And this despite an increase of surfaces of 8.4% during the same period …

High temperatures and lack of water

Prices for potatoes and all processed products, frozen French fries, potato chips, mashed potatoes, starch, will be as predictable as prices at the pump on January 1st. And no less painful. The final estimates will fall by the end of November, but already, prices on the open market have risen from 40 euros per ton last year to 280 euros. The price of the common tubers has not been spared. In the fresh market, the price of the main varieties has also soared to levels twice as high as a year ago. In recent days, the bintje has ironed above 200 euros per ton. On the futures market, expiring in April 2019, the potato is trading around 300 euros.

"The phenomenon is all the more difficult to swallow because, last year, the campaign was marked by overproduction and prices had fallen very low, notes Bertrand Ouillon, delegate of the inter-professional group for the valorization of the potato But as early as May, it was understood that the harvest would be difficult. "


The processing capacity of the Belgian plants has exceeded that of the Netherlands


The plants did not withstand high temperatures and lack of water in spring and summer. The potato France was cut in two: the farmers who were able to water and save their campaign and the others. In the second category, the majority of productions are for the industry. They represent the essential of the six million tons cultivated each year in France for the industry, of which nearly 2.5 million are destined for the export … before being reimported in the Hexagon in the form of frozen french fries or chips from Belgium.

McCain's three French factories, including McDonald's supplier, Nestlé's Mousseline site and chip makers, are not enough to fuel French consumption. "The processing capacity of the Belgian factories has exceeded that of the Netherlands", analyzes Bertrand Ouillon.

Irrigation, a paying challenge for the 2018 harvest

For farmers who have bet on irrigation, the 2018 harvest should remain in the annals. "I'm not doing too badly," admits Eric Hemelsdael, producer in Quesnoy-sur-Deûle. He did not hesitate to climb nearly 3 kilometers of additional pipes on his farm, in addition to the already buried network. An investment that has paid off for him and his main client since 1981, McCain. Eric Hemelsdael will be able to benefit from free market prices on the part of his production that is not contractual. This free market, which accounts for a quarter of the French harvest, allows farmers who could not provide the volumes they had committed to find the missing quantities to fulfill their contract. This year, these purchases will be at a high price.

How Bayard Resists

In the potato also luxury does not know the crisis. In Laucourt, in the Somme, the Bayard family takes care to control the quality of its products, without worrying about price fluctuations. For generations, the Bayards have made the tuber an exceptional product. Françoise and Bertrand returned to the family farm in 1985. Ten years later, they decided to devote themselves exclusively to the potato. Their collection, as they call it, has expanded to about thirty varieties. Recognized since 2015 by the culinary college of France, which defends the exceptional products, the house Bayard occupies a place in the firmament of the suppliers of the starred chefs. In the office where Adèle and Florent have sat, alongside their parents, who will be the quickest to answer the phone? At the end of the line, the Grande Epicerie du Bon Marché, the Grand Frais organic grocery store or the National Assembly restaurant.

The last harvest from nearly 400 hectares is [[aujourd’hui]]stored in huge cold rooms. The cold plunges the tuber into a dormancy that will prevent it from germinating. It also makes it possible to respect a precise rate of dry matter by large families, "firm flesh" and "fritable". "If the temperature is too low, the starch will turn into sugar," says Bertrand Bayard. Before being packaged, each potato will be subjected to a scrupulous examination on tables equipped with optical laser. A second sort is manually performed by four workers with the eye exercised. The Bayard potato is irreproachable.