Here’s why you’re paying more for potatoes now

With farmers unable to produce enough due to a long winter, prices are currently 70% above their long-term average

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Have you noticed how expensive some vegetables, especially potatoes and sweet potatoes, are at the moment? In fact, an expert points out, your potatoes haven’t cost this much in more than a decade. What is up with that?

The reason why potatoes are currently trading for 70% more than their longterm average price starts on the farm. In fact, it starts with the exceptionally long winter we’ve just endured, says Dr Johnny van der Merwe, a senior economic agriculturalist at North West University in Potchefstroom

He says that the long winter had a significant impact on major vegetables in the country. The lingering winter meant that farmers could produce less of these vegetables. The fact that consumers and processors need more than is currently available are keeping the prices at a very high level.

READ MORE: ‘Protect our potatoes,’ urges Mzansi farmers

Van der Merwe says potatoes are the best example of this, as for the past week their prices are 70% higher compared to the long-term average.

Dr Johnny van der Merwe, agricultural economist with the North-West University. Photo: Supplied

He looked at the average of weekly potato prices since 2010 and compared it to the current price. He also took the seasonal fluctuations in vegetable prices into account.

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“It is the highest it’s ever been since the last decade,” he pronounces.

He says the sweet potato market equally performed well, producing prices that went over the 200% price mark. This is great news for producers, less so for the consumers.

“I have not even looked into the other vegetables, but sweet potato prices are significantly high. Sweet potatoes prices are 220% higher compared to the long-term average at the moment. So, it is a massive high and it’s just due to a scarcity of products on the market at the moment,” he says.

Van der Merwe mentions that sweet potato prices tend to follow the movement in potatoes prices. When potatoes get more expensive, so do sweet potatoes. He speculates that people may opt for sweet potatoes as an alternative to potatoes when the spuds get too pricey.

He expects the potato and sweet potato prices to remain on an upward trajectory for a while due to a combination of factors. Especially good quality produce will remain expensive.

“We have seen that the high-quality products are getting very good prices, but the cold winter and the rain resulted in more low-quality stuff to come into the market as well,” he says. This has led to a bifurcation in the market, with the high quality produce being really scarce and expensive.

He has also noticed an increase in demand for certain produce due to a change in consumption patterns due to covid-19. He hypothesises that the pandemic has driven people to pay more attention to their basic needs, including food. The pandemic has also forced more people to return to consuming staple foods, like potatoes.

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