( The Packer )

2020 U.S. potato acreage is likely to be down substantially in response to disappearing foodservice demand for frozen potatoes and large count-carton potatoes in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.

Terence Hochstein, executive director of Potato Growers of Alberta, said in an article by The Western Producer that North American potato processors may cut contracted potato acreage by up to 25% to 30% this year.

Planting of the Idaho potato crop usually starts in early April and goes into middle May, with the bulk of the planting in the last two weeks of April and the first two weeks of May, according to the Idaho Potato Commission. Idaho accounts for close to one-third of total U.S. potato acreage, according to 2018 numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One potato leader said it is too soon to provide an educated estimate.

“We would certainly expect to see acreage reduction given the contract cuts by the frozen processing sector,” Mark Klompien, president and CEO of United Potato Growers of America, said in an e-mail April 14.

Beyond the frozen processing sector, Klompien said there is significant harm to the foodservice markets on the fresh side of the industry as well as to the seed sector. He said the United Potato Growers of America expects significant acreage cuts in 2020.

“However, our projection models can’t account for the length and depth of this crisis because that is the huge unknown variable,” he said April 15. “The magnitude of those acreage cuts will ultimately depend upon grower resolve to strategically understand the current marketplace signals.”

Pricing mixed

ricing of fresh potatoes has showed mixed trends, with shipping point prices of Idaho russet burbank cartons of 10 5-pound bags increasing from $6.50 per carton on March 2 to $10.50 per carton on April 15. In contrast, 40-count, 50-pound cartons of Idaho russet burbank potatoes dropped from $20.50 on March 2 to $11 on April 15.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported U.S. planted potato acreage of 961,800 acres and harvested potato acreage at 938,600 acres.

In 2018, the USDA reported that fresh potatoes accounted or 24% of total utilization of 450 million cwt.; processed potatoes represented 64% of total utilization. Seed use (8%) and loss (5%) accounted for most of the remaining crop, according to the USDA.

 

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