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Belgium’s land area figures are particularly surprising – News Potatoes

Belgium’s land area figures are particularly surprising – News Potatoes

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News potato

Yesterday at 12:00 noon – Niels van der Boom

If we are to believe the provisional acreage figures for potato consumption in Belgium, the area will increase significantly this year. This is mainly due to growth in Wallonia. These figures should be treated with some caution. As we know, the start of the season has not been smooth at all.

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Flanders has now published official figures for the provisional areas in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, putting the total potato area at 58,265 hectares. That’s 1.8% more than last year, and therefore the largest area ever planted in our southern neighbours.

There are significant differences in these figures. For example, the area of ​​early potatoes (harvested before September 1) is down by 9% to 5,734 hectares. The area of ​​the main harvest is up by 3.2% (1,589 hectares). In percentage terms, the area of ​​seed potatoes is growing by almost a third, to 1,715 hectares. In particular, more certified seed potatoes are being grown. This is a 30% increase compared to a quarter of the potatoes grown on the farm (known as ATR in the Netherlands). This move is not surprising given the (alleged) shortage of staples at the beginning of this season.

11% increase in potatoes in Wallonia
The Belgian potato organizations Fiwap and Carah complete the picture with figures for Wallonia. There, consumption area is reported to increase by 11% to 45,256 hectares. More than 5,000 hectares more than in 2023. Here too, there is a decrease in the area of ​​early potatoes, which plays only a marginal role in the French-speaking part of Belgium (75 hectares).

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The area under seed potatoes in Wallonia has doubled this season to 1,477 hectares. The area under seed potatoes will increase from 58 to 357 hectares. An increase of more than 500%. This area is not impressive, but it sends a signal that the Belgians are investing heavily in more of their own seed potatoes. In this respect, the 2023/24 season could be remembered as a turning point in the history books.

6,500 hectares of additional potatoes
If you add up all the pros and cons, you get to just under 105,000 hectares of commodity and seed potatoes in Belgium. That’s 6.6% more than was planted in 2023. Good for almost another 6,500 hectares. This is the biggest area increase since 2016. The distribution of varieties, based on figures from Belgian organizations, clearly shows how part of the seed potato problem has been solved. The area of ​​other varieties is growing by 36%, while the area of ​​the large varieties Fontaine, Challenger and Innovator is shrinking. Bintje can count on a 4% growth.

These figures have caused a small shock reaction in the European potato sector, and understandably so. Last winter, it was thought that the shortage of seed potatoes would have a major impact on the area planted in the EU4. However, all four EU countries are experiencing a growth in potato cultivation. The seed potato trading companies did everything they could to deliver as many sizes as possible, which they did. The cutting machines also ended up being a lifesaver in “producing” more seed potatoes. Export figures from the National Audit Office showed earlier that the Belgians ended up getting 6% fewer Dutch potatoes. Belgian factories do not want a repeat of this situation. Trading companies focused on more chip varieties, but as the figures now show, the Belgians are also growing more seed potatoes. The flywheel will start turning, especially when the large chip varieties could be available without a licence in three to five years.

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More hectares, less potatoes?
The main question now is how many potatoes will be harvested this year. Potato plots may have been abandoned but not planted. We know that potatoes were still going into the ground until the beginning of July. In addition, there were problems with attendance. Not only due to excessive rainfall, but also due to the quality of potato seeds. If we calculate that the average yield per hectare for five years is 40.5 tons, the consumption yield could theoretically reach 4.12 million tons. Even with the record area, this is 520 thousand tons less than was cleared last year. If we take into account the 10% yield loss due to emergence problems, water damage and late planting, we reach 3.7 million tons. This is similar to the harvest years 2018 and 2021.

Thanks to timely rainfall and mild temperatures with plenty of sun, crops are now growing quickly. Only time will tell how the 2024 crop will ultimately turn out. Another factor to consider is harvest risk. On average, potatoes are planted a month or more later. This changes the harvest time. This can cause some problems in a wet autumn. The zonal figures may paint a rosy picture of Belgium’s potato supply; in practice, it’s still far from over, to use cycling terms.