Fermentation may reduce potato surplus
Can the biogas sector take large volumes of potatoes from the market in order to reduce the current huge surpluses in Northwest Europe and the current soil to raise prices? Professor Erik Meers, coordinator of Biogas-E and EBA’s chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council, explains in a study by the Inter Provincial Centre for potato growing (PCA).
In theory yes, but in practice there are several obstacles to overcome. Due to above-average yields in Flanders, but also in neighbouring countries: the Netherlands, Germany and France, a gigantic surplus has emerged, with bottom prices as a result. The potato processing industry in Northwest Europe, by far the largest customer of the Flemish potato farmers, has more potatoes ‘available’ than they can normally process . Could that enormous downward pressure on potato pricing be alleviated if the biogas sector takes some potatoes from the market and turn the excess into renewable electricity and heat? That question was a part of a study of the PCA, done by professor Erik Meers, who calculated that the Flemish biogas plants could handle about 180.000 tons of potatoes annually at the current state-of-play without modifications to existing installations. Important note is that there is a zero tolerance for the presence of residual sand, and that the potatoes still need to be washed before they go into the fermentation. Feeding into the installation can be conducted via conventional screw based feeding systems.
“If we take into consideration a removal of excess potatoes of this order of scale, we could influence the pricing of this vegetable” said Marc Goeminne, coordinator of the PCA. “Potato Farmers could then limit their losses, which currently represent gigantic amounts” (Ed. current selling prices are only a fraction (~10-20%) of the actual production cost). According to Goeminne such a set-up can succeed only if neighbours are involved too: “This is an outstanding proposal to neighbouring countries. They have to be involved if we want to have a real impact. In other words, this is not only about Flanders. The initiative is now entirely in the hands of the industry. They could work out future arrangements; for instance, giving a part of the digestate in exchange for feedstock. Also auctions of rejected lots could structurally enter the biogas sector.”