Potato prices soar, but farmers still under pressure

Potatoes prices have reached record levels for the year and are trading at 77% higher than a year ago. This week, the prices again increased, reaching R81,67/10kg, Johnny van der Merwe, managing director of AM Trends, reported.

Potato prices soar, but farmers still under pressure
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A class 1 large-medium Mondial 10kg bag traded between R85 to R90.

Although larger volumes are set to enter the market over the coming months, with prices decreasing consequently, Van der Merwe did not expect prices to go down to the same level as during the corresponding period last year.

The biggest factors contributing to the higher price is the increased load-shedding schedule, and the increase in input costs.

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Meanwhile, speakers at the Potatoes South Africa (PSA) research symposium held in Parys, Free State, this week, noted that the high level of wastage in the potato industry was contributing to higher prices, and reducing profitability on farms.

Lerika Potgieter, a master’s student at the University of Pretoria focusing on consumer sciences, said that 15% to 20% of all harvested potatoes were wasted due to visual defects. Since potatoes are a high-input cost crop, the economic consequences for farmers are huge.

“These [rejected] potatoes still have all the nutritional value of those that passed the grade,” Potgieter said.

PSA is therefore focusing on supporting projects that will find alternative uses for these potatoes so that they can still generate income for farmers. As a last resort, discarded potatoes can be fed to insects to produce high-value protein for the animal feed market. Projects looking into uses for potato peels are also being explored.

Jannie Basson, a potato farmer from the Sandveld region, bemoaned the lack of market education regarding washed potatoes.

“A washed potato is out of its natural environment and shelf life is then drastically reduced, which leads to higher incidence of waste. If we can better educate consumers to accept unwashed potatoes, we can reduce wastage and give farmers a higher income per hectare without influencing what consumers pay for potatoes,” Basson said.

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Lindi Botha is an agricultural journalist and communications specialist based in Nelspruit, South Africa. She has spent over a decade reporting on food production and has a special interest in research, new innovations and technology that aid farmers in increasing their margins, while reducing their environmental footprint. She has garnered numerous awards during her career, including The International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Star Prize in 2019, the IFAJ-Alltech International Award for Leadership in Agricultural Journalism in 2020, and several South African awards for her writing.