If you hated this summer of 2022 due to heat waves and droughts, you have something in common with potatoes. Potato crops have indeed suffered in France this year, with a harvest between July and September deemed “catastrophic” by professionals from the National Union of Potato Producers (UNPT). The organization estimates that nearly 1.5 million tonnes could be lost on French soil, a decline “of at least 20% compared to the average of the last twenty years. »
We are talking here about a must on our plates: the average Frenchman swallows 52 kilos per year on average, and 64% of the population eats it every week. A sector which is also meeting with real international success: it is the third most consumed starch on the planet after rice and wheat, informs Yves Marin, retail consultant at the consulting firm Bartle. We were preparing to spend the winter without heating or electricity, and now we discover that there may not even be potatoes for our raclette evenings?
Your hake, with or without potato?
Do not – too much – panic, your favorite fruit and vegetable section should keep potatoes this winter. France is the first European exporter of the tuber, with more than 2 million potatoes going abroad each year, announces Yves Marin. “We just have to sell less of it abroad,” notes the expert, and keep the loot for ourselves.
It’s a little more complex according to Geoffroy d’Evry, president of the UNPT: “We can’t keep all the stocks for France. There will inevitably be shortages in our country, as in export, even if we can play on the percentages. Not possible either, to compensate for the lack, to buy massively abroad: the drought affected all of Europe, including the major producing countries, such as Germany or Poland.
Difference of cultures
All potatoes are not in the same boat. A third of French production benefits from artificial irrigation, de facto suffering less from the effects of drought and heat waves. “That does not mean that they are completely unscathed, nuance Geoffroy d’Evry. They suffered exceptional heat, with consequences on their physiognomy and physiology”, which led to losses in the fields.
But the real loss took place for non-irrigated potatoes and dependent only on natural rainfall, at their lowest in the summer of 2022. “There is a huge lack of yield on these crops”, deplores the president of the UNTP.
Cool, nothing new
This difference, you will see it in the supermarket. “Fresh” potatoes, those found in the fruit and vegetable section, should not experience any shortage. Indeed, 85% of them are artificially irrigated, according to figures from the national interprofessional potato committee (CNIPT), and have therefore been relatively spared this summer. horribilis. “Especially since the panic movements of the population are almost excluded: the potato cannot be stored for long, so we should not see worried consumers leaving with 10 kilos of potatoes as we were able to spot with the sunflower oil, gasoline or the famous rolls of toilet paper during confinement 1”, estimates Yves Marin.
Luc Chatelain, president of the CNIPT, wants to be reassuring: “For fresh potatoes, there is sufficient production for the French market. There will be no shortages and the sector will do everything to ensure a regular supply for the population. »
Honey, I shrunk the fries
As you will have understood, the industrial processing potato – the one that will be transformed into fries, mashed potatoes, crisps, or be used in processed dishes – is mainly from non-irrigated crops. Again, no risk of shortages or empty shelves, but “some tensions should take place”, notes Geoffroy d’Evry.
And if a flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a cyclone in Texas, this summer’s drought could affect the size of…fries. Due to the thermal and hydraulic shock, the tubers are less large, therefore producing smaller fries. Debates are thus underway between industrialists to reduce the size of each category of “sinterability” (the index that standardizes the size, shape and even color of fries).
Potatoes yes, but at what price?
So there will still be fresh potatoes, the fries may be smaller but still there. The difference could then be made at the level of the wallet. “A rise in prices cannot be ruled out given the explosion in production costs and the lack of yield”, warns Luc Chatelain. We reassure you, your tartiflette will not cost you 300 euros either: “The potato will remain an accessible, cheap and competitive product, reassures the director. If there is a price increase, it should be slight. »
And to make it as light as possible, the UNPT is campaigning for state aid, but also for better distribution. Currently, for one euro of potato sold, the producer receives 20 cents. “Large retailers must make an effort and cede part of their margins to producers, who are much more threatened by the crisis. It will withstand 2022, but that may not be the case for many of our people,” worries Geoffroy d’Evry. However, the seed of the next harvest is at stake now, and it is not certain that all producers can finance it. “It’s next year’s harvest that is at stake,” warns the director of the UNPT. This winter, everything should be rolling. But nothing is certain for 2023.