Prince Edward Island potato grower-shippers could run out of spuds earlier than usual this season.

As of January, PEI fresh-market stocks were 30% lower than last year at the same, said Greg Donald, general manager of the Charlottetown-based Prince Edward Island Potato Board.

That could affect availability this spring and early summer.

“Some go year-round, but traditionally shippers run out in June,” Donald said. “This year there’s a concern they could clean up earlier.”

The causes for the lower stocks include lower yields and stronger demand, Donald said.

Island growers typically average about 290 cwt. per acre. This season, the average was closer to 280 cwt. So even though PEI acreage was up slightly for 2011-12, production is down from 25.5 million cwt. in 2010-11 to about 24 million cwt. this season.

The greater demand is due largely to smaller crops in New Brunswick and Maine, both of which were hit hard by rains during the growing season, Donald said.

That extra demand was more than enough to offset lighter demand from export markets, he said. More normal-sized Western European and Russian potato crops in 2011 have imited island exports to the Caribbean.

“We’re lucky, and we feel terrible for them,” Donald said of crop losses among its neighbors.

For the balance of the PEI deal, Donald expects shippers to reign in supplies to stretch the deal out. The result will likely be higher prices.

“It’s an opportunity to be more pullish on price and manage this crop until the end of the season,” he said. “Guys will do what they can to take care of their best customers.

On Jan. 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $9-10 for 50-pound cartons of russets 40-50s from Idaho, down from $17-18.50 last year at the same time.