The early potato export season has got underway at Sa Pobla, and although production is down by 20 per cent and delivery is late, farmers are hoping to maintain their market quota. The crop is two weeks late this year, because of the damage caused by November's storms which hit the farmers' fields as badly as they did the beaches in the coastal resorts. Joan Company, manager of the co-operative Esplet, said that the crop for export is likely to be 20 per cent less than last year, although that was only a prediction as so far about 80 per cent has been harvested. Company said that the bad weather had delayed the growth of the plants so much so, that by the time harvesting started, the potatoes were not fully developed. The first potatoes are being sent to England and the Nordic countries, and the first lorryloads of the Maris Pirs variety have already been sent off. Company said that it was becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain its hold on the British market because more countries are producing early varieties, and he estimated that nearly all of the ultra early crop, between 800 and 1'000 tons, had been lost. To maintain their market quota, the local farmers have been sending small quantities out of storage since December. But the results of the season depend on the prices paid on the international market. At the moment, Esplet has set its average prices at 0.69 and 0.75 euros a kilo for the yellow and white varieties of potatoes. The Balearic government has promised to pay the farmers subsidies for the losses caused by the severe storms before the summer. Britain has long been the main buyer of early potatoes from Sa Pobla, where local farmers have been experimenting with early varieties to maintain their competitive edge over other countries.