The Portuguese potato and onion season is not having its best time. The demand for both products is not as great as last season, which is especially true for onions. Some growers even destroy their crops instead of losing them.
According to Tania Silva of the Portuguese freshman Agromais, potato growers have had a difficult season so far. “In Portugal, 2020 was a challenging year for the potato sector. Portugal is one of the first countries in Europe to win the new potato harvest. This made the start of this season difficult, as there were still last season’s preserved potatoes by the time we got new potatoes. The fact that the hospitality demand has decreased has forced us to look for alternatives in order to be able to drop the potatoes. Normally, trading in the first few weeks is fairly smooth.”
Not everything is going badly, because the coronavirus did lead to a spike in demand for potatoes for the machining sector. Silva: “The other side of this story is that the demand for potatoes from the processing sector has increased. The quarantine has boosted the consumption of french fries and frozen potatoes, allowing the machining sector to absorb our supply, although prices were lower than last year. The total potato yield here in Portugal was comparable to last season. We also export potatoes to Spain and the south of France.”
As far as onions are concerned, the situation is a little more dire. Silva argues that a number of growers deliberately destroyed their products because the sales would not yield them a profit. “The situation of onions in Portugal is much more worrying than that of potatoes, as stakeholders from across the sector are waiting for schools to be restarted to see how the market will develop. Due to the lack of demand, there are growers who are so desperate that they destroy their products on the field or drop off below cost. A large proportion of Spanish onions are sold to Portugal and this situation may exacerbate the situation in the sector. One solution is to find ways to distinguish us through the country of origin and the quality.”
The fact that the main market for Agromais onions is the UK could be an even bigger challenge next year. It is still uncertain what effect Brexit will have on the sector. Mr Silva said: “Another challenge for the onion could be Brexit, because we mainly supply our onions to the UK. After December, this means that our exports may be reduced and that we will be marketing onions on the domestic market. We started with prices that are similar to last year’s, but then we had a huge yield. However, prices are now starting to rise.”
“Agromais is the only player in Portugal with adequate storage facilities for both potatoes and onions, making it possible to deliver these products in winter. We have been active in this market for over 30 years and supply not only to the fresh food market, but also to the food sector in general.”