Potato shortage spikes prices

  • 2002-01-17
  • TBT staff
RIGA - Latvians are being forced to abandon their meat-and-potato diet due to a shortage of native grown potatoes, which has sent prices soaring.

Last year's poor yield increased imports to nearly four times the level of 2000, the Latvian Food and Veterinary Service reported. Latvia imported 5,157 tons of potatoes in 2001 compared to 1,467 tons in 2000.

Estonia was the chief source of foreign spuds, with 1,905 tons of the tuber coming from there, while 678 tons came from Lithuania and 559 tons from the Netherlands.

Toward the end of 2001 imports increased to nearly eight times the monthly level in 2000.

With stores and restaurant owners close to despair the price of Latvia's favorite staple has reached an unprecedented 0.5 lats ($0.79) per kilogram and is set to rise further.

Last summer's frequent thunderstorms are the main cause of the problem. They created excessive humidity which caused potatoes to rot, thus reducing the potato yield by as much as half in some parts of the country.

Farmers rushed to sell their stocks as quickly as possible meaning that almost all potatoes now available are imports, Janis Skapsts, chief agronomist at Marupe Garden Center, told the business newspaper Dienas Bizness.

Latvia's potato yield in 2000 was 747,100 tons or 14,600 kilograms per hectare.

Riga's Central Market has not yet run short but Latvian grown potatoes are selling at 0.3 lats per kilogram compared with prices of 0.08-0.12 lats per kilogram last year, the market's press secretary Andris Petersons said.

"It would look strange if potatoes became more expensive than tangerines, which currently cost 0.45 lats, but potato prices will keep growing," warned Petersons.