No need to hold the ketchup.
Despite rumors of a french fry fiasco, potato grower representatives say fears of a potato paucity are preposterous.
Multiple national news outlets reported that below-average potato harvest output and above-average demand for french fries had some people worried about a potential shortage.
Stephen Nicholson, a senior grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank, thought such reports of shortages were “overblowing the situation.” However, a decrease in this year’s potato output may cause an increase in potato prices.
Domestic potato output is projected to be at the lowest it has been since 2010, including a 5.5 percent decrease from Idaho, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, did not think that decrease was significant for Idaho. The main reason for the decrease was an October cold snap that left some potatoes frost-damaged. Yet, unlike other potato producing areas, Idaho farmers were able to harvest 85 percent of their crops prior to the drop in temperatures.
“It took the top off what could have been a bumper crop. What remained, the 85 percent, is approximately 13 billion pounds of potatoes, which is in the neighborhood of what we usually produce every year,” Muir said.
Of the 15 percent of potatoes that were not harvested before the frost, between 5 to 30 percent were frost-damaged.
Other states saw a greater loss to their potato crops. North Dakota experienced an 11.8 percent decrease in harvested potatoes, while Oregon had a 16 percent decrease, according to a report from the United Potato Growers of Canada.
That loss means there is a greater demand for Idaho potatoes, resulting in Idaho farmers getting more money for their potatoes crops than usual, Muir said.
“Idaho is actually in a pretty good spot. They have the supply; they got most of their potatoes out before it really got cold and frozen,” Nicholson agreed. “There are going to be parts of the country coming to Idaho to buy potatoes that may not have done that if it had been a normal crop.”
Muir said he would not be surprised if consumers saw a price increase in potato products. He predicted the increase would be slight, however.
“I’m not hearing any reports of food services cutting back on french fries,” Muir said. “One of my objectives is to minimize fears. We might pay a little bit more when it comes to potatoes, but it won’t be by much.”
One difference consumers may find in coming months is less of a selection of potatoes, Nicholson said. Grocery shoppers may see fresh potatoes in smaller sizes. The poor weather resulted in fewer large potatoes. The large potatoes that were harvested will most likely go to contractors, such as frozen french-fry producers, whose products need larger potatoes.
If prices do increase, consumers most likely won’t see that increase in restaurants until after this year, said Nicholson, due to contract pricing with those restaurants.
It remains unclear whether a growing demand for potato products abroad will affect potato prices further.