Russian potato sector faces price increase and lack of high quality seeds
The Russian potato market is characterized by record high volumes of potato harvest in the industrial potato growing sector in 2019 which totaled 7,564.9 thousand tons. Such a tangible supply volume led to the fact that practically throughout the 2019/2020 season, low prices for potatoes were observed.
Some reduction of industrial cultivation area of potatoes took place in 2020. Compared to 2019, it decreased by 8.0% to 280.9 thousand hectares. This was the lowest figure since 2009 and followed by a significant drop in the volume of potato harvest in 2020. Based on the results of the 2020 harvesting campaign, potato production in the Russian Federation amounted to 6,570.0 thousand tons. This is 13.2% (994.9 thousand tons) less than in 2019.
Potatoes are cultivated in almost all regions of the country. The TOP-5 regions account for 35.9% of all collections, the TOP-10 regions - 50.5%, and the TOP-20 - 69.0%. Among the key growing regions are the Bryansk, Tula, Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow, Tyumen, Sverdlovsk, Lipetsk regions, as well as the Chuvash Republic. Astrakhan, Rostov regions, Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories, and the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic are leading in the supply of early potatoes on the market. In 27 regions of Russia, the production of industrially grown potatoes exceeds the annual consumption, 55 regions produce potatoes in volumes that are lower than their regional consumption level.
Consumption and import
The annual consumption of potatoes in Russia, excluding processing, ranges from 12 million tons to 15 million tons. The maximum import was observed in the 2010/11 season - 1, 1-1, 4 million tons. After that, every year, the indicator declined. In 2020, it amounted to about 370 thousand tons, in 2019 - 291 thousand tons, in 2017 and 2018 - 500 thousand tons. Decrease in import supplies of potatoes in 2019-2020 was due to the high supply of Russian products, as a result, low prices in the domestic market. In 2021, amid rising potato prices, imports are expected to recover. The import volume may exceed 800 thousand tons. Import deliveries are formed mainly by Egypt, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and China.
The market is characterized by a certain seasonality of imports and exports of potatoes. The main volume of import of ware potatoes to the Russian Federation in 2018-2019 fell on the period from March to June. The seasonality of imports is largely due to the increased supply from some large supplying countries. The volume of export deliveries of potatoes from Russia falls mainly in the period from September to December.
Potato exports from Russia grew in 2019-2020. In 2019, deliveries, compared to 2018, increased by 95.6% to 291.8 thousand tons. In January-August 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, they increased by another 107.2% and amounted to 241.2 thousand tons. The increase in potato exports is associated with low prices. It is expected that in the first half of 2021, the export of potatoes from the Russian Federation will significantly decrease.
Russian potatoes are mainly exported to such countries as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan is both a supplier and a buyer of potatoes. From this country, mainly early potatoes are imported to Russia (from April to July), and from Russia to Azerbaijan, potatoes are supplied directly harvested during the main season, that is, in August-October (deliveries are made from August to April.
The current season (2020/2021) is characterized by high potato prices. During the week from March 2 to March 9, average retail prices for potatoes increased by 2.6%, in February the increase was 8.1%, according to Russian Statistics Committee. In the wholesale segment, according to the Potato Union, prices in the first ten days of March increased by 140-150% compared to the same period of 2020. Moreover, a noticeable rise in prices has been observed since mid-October 2020.
“The reason for the increase in prices is that, against the background of low profitability of the previous three seasons, a number of agricultural producers, primarily farms and individual entrepreneurs, abandoned the production of potatoes in favor of more marginal agricultural crops, including, for example, cereals and oilseeds,” the executive director of the Potato Union explained. Only due to the reduction of areas, potato sector missed about half a million tons of potatoes, in addition, in a number of regions there was a decrease in yield. In 2020, the gross harvest of potatoes amounted to 19.58 million tons, taking into account households, in the commodity sector – 6.8 million tons against 7.2 – 7.6 million tons in previous years.
However, he believes that the main reason for the increase in prices is the decline in the commercial quality of potatoes due to weather conditions. During the planting period, growing season, as well as during harvesting, multidirectional unfavorable climatic phenomena could be observed: late frosts, waterlogging, abnormally high temperatures.
The share of imported seed potatoes to Russia exceeds 90%. In 2019, the main countries-suppliers were the Netherlands (40.8% of all supplies), Germany (33.8%), Finland (12.9%), Belarus (7.2%) and Kazakhstan (5, 3%). In January-April 2020, the main supplying countries were the Netherlands (50.0% of all supplies) and Germany (38.1%).
The issue of high quality potato seeds for Russia is one of the most important. In Russia the average potato yield in the industrial sector is 24-25 t/ha, while in Europe it is at the level of 40-45 t/ha. The industry’s representatives accept that in order for them to achieve world-class results, they must use high-quality seeds no matter domestic or foreign. So they consider that development of domestic centers for potato seeds production, especially super-elite varieties, should be a positive factor for the industry.
In the season of 2021 potato growers are seeing serious problems with the supply of imported seeds for the production of potatoes for processing. Now the issue is being resolved, however, potato growers who have already started planting in the southern regions have not received the planting material in the required amount. In Russia, there are almost no seeds of domestic selection for growing potatoes for processing, and it is the direction that needs to be developed. The industry participants support the processes of localization of production of seed potatoes of foreign selection in Russia, but so far, this is often held back by administrative barriers, which damages the economy of the crop production sector. In particular, by the decisions of the Federal State Budgetary Institution "State Sort Commission", the inclusion of promising foreign varieties in the state register is blocked.
At the same time, in May 2021, the government will consider a roadmap for the development of domestic seed production. Potato Union has made a number of proposals which relate to optimization of the functions of the State Variety Commission, taking into account the expansion of the practice of conducting tests on the basis of agricultural organizations under the control and coordination of the institution, accelerating the commissioning of the federal information system for tracking the turnover and use of seed / planting material, linking the allocation of all forms of state support to agricultural producers to the use of exclusively certified seeds.
Russian agricultural producers would really like to reduce their dependence on imported seed since every year the situation with the import of potato seeds becomes more difficult in terms of import procedures and dependence on them. Therefore, potato growers are in favor of localization of seed production in Russia. However, the industry experts realize that localization should be administered by the state in such a way that it would be profitable for domestic companies to engage in the production and replication of planting material.