US: Potato Farmers Reduce Planting as Demand Plummets
Potato farmers plan to plant fewer spuds this year, after demand for America’s most popular vegetable has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic. Early estimates show potato acres down about 10%, said Blair Richardson, CEO of Denver-based Potatoes USA. But even with that reduction, industry leaders fear farmers will be unable to sell all their harvest come fall. The problem appeared because the closures of restaurants, schools and other foodservice operations created an unprecedented drop in potato consumption across the country.
“60% of our business is foodservice,” said Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council. “When that market slammed shut, basically overnight, the supply chain for the potato industry started to back up. And now we’re dealing with a huge oversupply.”
More than USD1bn worth of potatoes is “backed up” in the processing system, Quarles said. Those are potatoes which processors would have sold this spring, but couldn’t. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced it would buy some USD50m in potatoes. While it’s a positive move, Quarles said, it won’t be nearly enough to clear out the backlog.
“We really need the government to come in and be the customer,” Quarles said. “We need to get the 2019 crop out of the supply chain. Otherwise, growers are going to be impacted by this for years.”
Farmers already are disking up planted fields or, if they’ve not yet planted, making last-minute switches to different crops.