Stable outlook for SA’s potato farmers in 2022

Various factors will influence potato production in 2022, according to Willie Jacobs, CEO of Potatoes South Africa.

Stable outlook for SA’s potato farmers in 2022
Winter production may become unprofitable for some potato farmers in the Sandveld, due to escalating production costs.
Photo: FW Archive

Various factors will influence potato production in 2022, according to Willie Jacobs, CEO of Potatoes South Africa. High grain prices in the summer rainfall region could result in farmers downscaling production in favour of maize and soya bean, for example, he said.

In addition, rising production costs could result in marginal lands being taken out of production across the country, especially if prices fell below R80/10kg bag of potatoes.

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Jan van Zyl, a farmer in the Sandveld, said fertiliser and chemical costs alone were expected to increase by as much as 50%.

“In the Sandveld, where production costs are higher than those in the rest of the country, price creep could make winter production totally unviable.”

The unreliable electricity supply and 20% hike in electricity prices were also adding to production risks.

“Many farmers invested heavily in infrastructure to access cheaper electricity at night, but this [becomes] useless when load-shedding forces them to pump water during peak hours,” Van Zyl said.

However, the wetter outlook for the summer rainfall region could result in farmers planting more potatoes in dryland areas, making up for downscaled production in other regions. This could bring overall production closer to the long-term norm and help stabilise market prices, which, in turn, would facilitate better production planning.

Jacobs said: “We don’t expect the same production highs and lows as in 2021, when prices were above average, especially during the second half of winter, due to abnormally cold climatic conditions. A bottleneck also occurred when seed potatoes that weren’t plant-ready in May were planted in June, resulting in an overlap between the Sandveld and Limpopo production seasons. Nevertheless, there’s concern that a seed potato shortage may [resurface], as some potato producers didn’t hold material back for the next planting season because of the high potato prices [in 2021].”

The expiration of anti-dumping tariffs on frozen French fries imported from the Netherlands and Germany was another concern.