Industry groups hoping for reversal of decline in potato production

Photo: Ed g2s, Free Domain

Potato growing in the Czech Republic has been on the decline in recent years. While over 1.5 million tonnes of the tuber were produced in 2005/2006, the figure has now fallen to 604,000 tonnes. Industry bodies have now come up with suggestions aimed at reversing that trend.

Photo: Ed g2s,  Free Domain
The Czech Agrarian Chamber and the Czech Potato Association are to jointly prepare a White Book of recommendations on how to boost output of the staple foodstuff for the Ministry of Agriculture

Speaking at a news conference in Prague on Thursday, the chairman of the Czech Potato Association, Milan Chlan, said the document would be ready by the summer.

Mr. Chlan told journalists that growers were calling for the introduction of a marketing fund to support Czech-grown spuds, alongside increased financial backing for the renovation of irrigation systems.

Drought caused domestic potato production to fall by over a quarter last year.

Around 28,500 hectares of land were given over to potato cultivation in that period, a year-on-year area decline of 4.5 percent.

Speaking on Thursday, the president of the Chamber of Agriculture, Miroslav Toman, said the cultivation of this “sensitive” commodity was not helped by the fact that growers lacked a long-term vision for development of the sector.

The Ministry of Agriculture tends to speak about it in general, non-specific terms; that is why the industry groups have come together to draft a series of proposals, Mr. Toman said.

Mr. Chlan said the suggested marketing fund, which would be half funded by the state, would primarily focus on convincing Czech consumer of the quality of homegrown potatoes.

The industry chief pointed across the border to Austria, where the equivalent of CZK 1.35 billion is used to market domestically produced potatoes annually. And with some success: 90 percent of the spuds sold in the country are grown in Austria.

Mr. Chlan said irrigation systems in the Czech Republic were in need of renewal. Another issue was growers’ access to sufficient quantities of water. We want a thoroughly worked out system of access, like they have in other countries, he added.

While production was down last year, prices were up, easing the impact on farmers.

The entire Central Europe region saw a decline in output. Production in Western states such as Germany, France and the Low Countries reached average levels. Most of the potatoes imported into the Czech Republic come from Germany, where prices are similar.

The Ministry of Education has previously said that compensation for farmers – including potato growers – over last year’s drought will be a matter for the entire government.

The Czech Potato Association says it appears likely that growers whose revenues fell by over 30 percent in comparison with their output over the previous five-year period will be eligible for compensation. However, it will cover all of their losses, it said.