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Drought doubles potato prices to record high

| Economic factors

Potato prices have more than doubled in 2016 from a year earlier as the worst drought in more than a century cuts yields in growing regions, an industry body said.

The national average price for a 10 kilogram pocket of medium potatoes jumped to R63.30 in the week ended March 11 from last year’s average of R28.45, Pieter van Zyl, an agricultural economist at Potatoes South Africa, said by phone on March 15.

“This is the highest on record,” Van Zyl said. “I don’t think it will go higher than what we see.”

The nation last year suffered its lowest rainfall since records began in 1904, cutting output of crops such as grains, wine grapes and peanuts. Farmers in potato-producing provinces such as Limpopo, which has the biggest output, the Free State and the North West need rain to fill boreholes and dams.

“There are no exceptions - all the regions have experienced a dry spell, not much rain or no rain at all and excessive heat conditions,” he said. “That’s the reason prices are very high currently.”

In 2015, the country’s potato farmers produced an average of 46 metric tons per hectare for both irrigated and rain-fed fields. For growers in the eastern Free State, who depend solely on rain, the lack thereof means yields will be two thirds lower than last year, when they produced 30 tons per hectare.

“Currently they are not even doing 10 tons per hectare - these guys are really struggling,” said Van Zyl.

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