Updated 8.08am with Agricultural Ministry comments
The exportation of Malta’s most important cash crop, the humble potato, has been thrown into uncertainty this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The crop is worth about €2 million a year to Malta’s farmers. But while they have started to harvest potatoes for export to countries like Holland and Germany, this year they fear a drop in both demand and prices.
The situation is “very fluid and uncertain”, according to Malcolm Borg, head of the farmers’ lobby group Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi.
“Everything is up in the air. Dutch importers are weighing things, especially issues related to demand,” he said.
“Meanwhile, they also have a problem with workers since they do not have enough people working with them due to the lockdowns.”
The potato season usually runs through to June with exportation taking place between April and May.
Everything is up in the air
The Maltese have been exporting potatoes for over a hundred years. The crop is very important for the profitability of many local farmers, Borg said.
According to the national agricultural policy, Maltese potatoes are highly appreciated on the Dutch market, where they achieve premium prices that surpass those for similar produce from other countries.
The uncertainty is even more worrying for farmers this year since they have suffered “great” losses as a result of restaurants being shut, Borg added. On the other hand, demand from local households does not seem to have been impacted by the outbreak.
The Agriculture Ministry said it had no updates on the situation.
“Up till now, our Ministry hasn't been informed as to any change in the exportation of potatoes."
The special Maltese potato
According to national policy, the Maltese potato product has “unique organoleptic properties” – which relate to taste, odour and texture – as well as a traditional link with Malta. On the Dutch market, Maltese potatoes are often referred to as the Maltas.
Dutch consumers, especially those of traditional eating habits, have acquired a preference for Maltese produce for which they are ready to pay high prices.
Malta’s potatoes are also in demand in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK. The last year available figures from the National Statistics Office is 2014, when 3,100 tonnes of potatoes were exported from Malta, mostly to countries in the EU.
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