The price of potatoes in South Africa has decreased in recent weeks. But that is after a good run of more than a 100% increase over the last year.

Current prices are just shy away of R100 per 10-kilogram bag.  Adverse weather conditions earlier in the year and an element of frost in Limpopo, which is a significant potatoe-producing area, are said to have contributed to lower output.

“What made things a little worse this year is the fact that we actually had very adverse weather conditions in January specifically, which was the major planting time for these specific production regions. Part of production happens from January through to June / July and then the harvest actually starts from May through to August and they had managed to lift more potatoes earlier in the season, but the latter part of the season didn’t have the potatoe volumes expected,” says Chief Executive of Potatoes SA Willie Jacobs.

While prices hit a record high, they seem to have moderated somewhat in recent weeks.

“We saw those prices coming down again and that was, again, due to some high volumes entering into the market and we saw with the latest heatwave that we had in the past couple of days that we can expect some lower quality as well on the markets. The potatoes don’t really respond well to those significant-high temperatures above the 40-degree mark that we saw into the northern areas of South Africa and we can expect, therefore, slightly lower quality of potatoes as well,” says Agricultural Economist at Amtrends Dr Johny Van der Merwe.

Van der Merwe says these dynamics will likely see potatoe prices come under even more pressure.  But the industry says it sees continued solid demand for its crop.

“I think on the demand side, which is becoming all the more obvious, is that there’s definitely. I don’t exactly know what the reason is for that but there is an increased demand for potatoes specifically. Whether it’s the other starch-related products that are also high in price like typically the maize price has a large influence on that,” says Jacobs.

Weather conditions have negatively affected the quality of potatoes supplied in the market:

Jacobs also expects potatoe demand to go through the roof on account of the festive season, more so with the relaxation of COVID-19 measures and the ramp-up in vaccinations,  allowing for people to socialise much more than before.

Despite this positive expectation, input costs are expected to rise anywhere between 30 and 40 % for the agricultural sector.

“But I think it will be more worrisome for specifically potato farmers, as the inputs are much higher per hectare for potatoes, so I think the increasing fuel prices,  as we’re expecting, will increase now with the higher oil prices, so that will have a significant effect. Fertilizer prices increased drastically in the last 6 months and potatoes use a lot of those inputs per hectare, so it’s very intensive,” says Van der Merwe.

Whatever the ups and downs in the price, South Africans can rest assured that there will be sufficient supply for their dietary requirements.  – Nompumelelo Siziba and Tshepo Mongoai