By Ted Kreis – Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, Communications
For the first time all year, fresh potato shipments from the Red River Valley are meeting or exceeding last year’s numbers. Shipments had been running at about two-thirds of last year’s pace until the pandemic broke and consumers abandoned restaurants for eating at home.
Because of large crop losses last fall, prices for red and yellow potatoes from the valley have been higher all year which has slowed shipments to extend the shipping season accordingly. But in mid-March fresh shipments from the Red River Valley exceeded last year for the first time all season. This past week shipments were up nearly 20 percent compared to last year, all this as supplies dwindle in the Red River Valley.
Meanwhile, there has been an opposite effect on the frozen potato market which is highly dependent on foodservice business, which includes restaurants. With restaurant business mostly disappearing with the exception of drive-thru business, stockpiles of frozen fries is backing up causing huge cuts in 2020 contracted acres and much uncertainty going forward. This could also have a trickledown effect on the fresh market this fall if russet supplies in the Northwest are diverted to fresh.
In the U.S., processors are cutting, eliminating or delaying contracts but its not just happening here, this is a worldwide problem. In Western Europe, several potato processing units are shutting down totally or partially. Throughout the European northwest, the industry is calling for a reduction in planting areas as it now expects a huge surplus of fries in storage. One estimate is that the Dutch potato sector has 1 million metric tons of surplus processing potatoes at the current time. In France, an estimated 500,000 tons of potatoes cannot be processed.
We have never seen anything happen to the entire world like what is happening now so there is no playbook or roadmap to economic recovery. However one thing is certain, the world will always have to be fed, and potatoes will help lead the way. We just don’t know how that will look.
(This article appeared in Potato Bytes, an online publication by the NPPGA)