North America Braces for Potential Potato Shortage

Potato processors in the United States are scrambling, this week, to buy up supplies and ship them across the continent all for the sake of French fries.  Apparently an extended and unforgivingly cold and wet winter season damaged many crops among key producers in both the United States and Canada.  

These unrelentingly cold conditions first hit growing regions in October, hitting potato crops with punishing frost.  Farmers from Alberta Canada to Idaho managed to dig up some of their damaged crops for storage. However, growers from Manitoba to North Dakota and Minnesota were also hit by fierce snow and rain, which forced them to abandon some of their supplies in the fields where they were planted. 

But its not enough that the wild weather crippled crops, an increase in fry-processing capacity in Canada has bolstered demand.  That combination is a recipe for a tighter supply line and that could also have an affect on potato prices across all of North America.  

As a matter of fact, Idaho Potato Commission industry relations director Travis Blacker notes, “French fry demand has just been outstanding lately, and so supplies can’t meet the demand.”  

To look at this another way, the United Potato Growers of Canada estimate that only about 12,000 Manitoba acres remain unharvested.  That is equivalent to roughly 4,900 hectares and represents only 18 percent of the province’s whole planted area.  Perhaps more importantly, it is also approximately equal to everything that was abandoned throughout Canada last season.  

In all, then, roughly 6.5 percent of Alberta’s potatoes have been estimated to be frost damaged.  Manitoba is Canada’s second-largest potato growing region, followed by Alberta.  Canada’s leading producer is Prince Edward Island.  

In addition to this, the United States Department of Agriculture forecasts that domestic potato output should drop more than 6 percent this year.  Production might actually dip to its lowest levels since 2010.  Idaho—of course, the nation’s top potato producer—estimates output should drop by 5.5 percent.