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In Harghita County, the demand for consumption-grade potatoes is facing a slump despite a bountiful harvest this year. Romfeld Zsolt, Director of the Harghita County Agricultural Directorate, highlights the inefficiency of the market, attributing it to a shift in consumer habits. He notes that people now prefer purchasing smaller quantities due to the year-round availability of potatoes, leading to a lower demand.
The current price range for a kilogram of potatoes fluctuates between 1 and 1.7 Romanian Leu (RON). Farmers contracted with supermarket chains sell potatoes for 1.35 RON per kilogram, providing packaging themselves. However, the final retail price in supermarkets tends to be significantly higher, according to Romfeld Zsolt. The director suggests that the lack of demand is a result of changing consumer preferences, with people opting for smaller, more immediate purchases.
One significant challenge faced by producers is the cost of storage. With potatoes available throughout the year, consumers tend to limit purchases to daily or short-term quantities, eliminating the need for long-term storage. This convenience comes at the expense of producers, who bear the entire burden of storage costs. Traders also acquire potatoes for short durations, based on what is readily sellable.
Romfeld Zsolt explains, “Consumer habits have changed. Since potatoes are available year-round, consumers have limited themselves to daily or a few days’ worth, avoiding the need for winter storage. This is more convenient, and storage costs cease to be a concern for consumers. Currently, storage costs entirely burden the producer. Traders also only take as much as can be sold in the short term.”
Farmers are currently assessing the areas they should cultivate for the spring of 2024 based on calculations considering current demand, future opportunities, and input prices. Romfeld Zsolt emphasizes the need for technical estimates and cost calculations, stating, “Everyone needs to make technical estimates and estimates on cost calculations, so people are looking for motivation for further production.”
While the price of potatoes per kilogram is deemed low in comparison to the 2024 planting costs, Romfeld Zsolt suggests that an optimal price would be around 2 RON per kilogram.
Despite a satisfactory yield of approximately 22 tons per hectare, cultivated on nearly 7000 hectares in Harghita County, the overall potato cultivation area has been decreasing. The shift is attributed to small-scale farmers realizing the lack of profitability in cultivating potatoes on a small scale and choosing to focus on family consumption instead.