Production Report

Another record for U.S. potato export

Published in the November 2009 Issue Published online: Nov 06, 2009 John Toaspern, VP, USPB International Marketing
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U.S. potato and potato product exports reached a record $1.2 billion for the July 2008 to June 2009 marketing year. The total quantity of exports was also a record at 1,238,176 metric tons (MT). The fresh weight equivalent of U.S. exports was 53,844,308 cwt of fresh potatoes. The value of exports rose 8.65 percent, while the quantity increase was 1.93 percent, reflecting the increased price of U.S. potatoes and products during the past marketing year. U.S. potato exports have grown 55 percent over the past five marketing years and now use over 15 percent of U.S. production.


Frozen potato exports account for 60 percent of the total and grew by 9.88 percent to $720 million. The quantity increased 4.22 percent to reach 792,556 MT. The Asia/Pacific region accounts for 70 percent of total frozen exports, led by Japan, which increased 9.34 percent to 294,247 MT. China/Hong Kong is the second largest market with combined exports of 89,268 MT, an increase of 14 percent over the previous marketing year. U.S. exports to the United States Potato Board's (USPB's) target markets in Central America increased 88 percent to reach a total of 31,829 MT. Exports to the Southeast Asian countries of the Philippines (-22%), Malaysia (-16%), Singapore (-19%), Thailand (-12%) and Indonesia (-21%) all declined, as the high price of U.S. products and strengthening of the U.S. dollar led to switches to product from New Zealand, Canada and the EU. Exports to Mexico were off 8.94 percent as the punitive tariff imposed by Mexico in response to the failure of the U.S. to live up to its NAFTA obligations on Mexican truck access led to a switch to Canadian product.


Fresh potato exports were down 3.81 percent to 282,092 MT, but were up 14.43 percent in value to $154 million. Fresh exports include both table-stock potatoes, as well as potatoes destined for processing in the importing country, mainly for chips, but also for frozen products in Canada. Exports to Canada increased 1.97 percent to 176,633 MT. U.S. exports to Mexico are still restricted to the 26 kilometer border zone; however, Mexico is still the second largest export market for fresh potatoes. Exports this past marketing year were impacted by the high prices in the U.S., the devaluation of the Mexican peso and the economic problems in Mexico, especially in the light manufacturing sector along the border. The volume of exports declined 19 percent to 45,986 MT, while the value actually rose 5.71 percent to $27 million.


Exports of dehydrated potatoes suffered from the high price and short supply of dehy in the U.S. this past year. The total volume of dehy exports declined 5.33 percent to 84,269 MT, while the value was actually up 0.34 percent to $132 million. Canada is now the largest market for dehy with exports up 9.33 percent to 23,957. Undoubtedly, some of this product is transshipped to final destinations in Asia and Europe. Exports to Japan declined 28 percent as that market contracted due to economic stagnation and movement to other types of snack products. Dehy exports to Mexico, the third largest market, have stabilized at just under 13,000 MT, as the run up in exports for the Stacks plant there have stopped. This level represents use in the rest of Mexico.


Potato chip exports increased 2.79 percent to 62,493 MT, valued at $189 million. The leading market is Canada, which increased 13 percent to 18,228 MT, followed by Japan up 42 percent to 15,771. This increase in finished chip exports to Japan also helps explain the decline in dehy exports to this market. The difficult economic situation in Mexico, as described above, also led to a 37 percent decline in chip exports to 5,513 MT.


Seed potato exports were reported as being up 49 percent to 16,766 MT, valued at $9.6 million. The largest reported market for U.S. seed potatoes is Mexico, despite the fact the market is officially closed to U.S. seed potatoes. Exports of seed potatoes to Canada were up 58 percent to 5,507 MT. Uruguay, one of the USPB's target markets for seed exports, grew 98 percent to 1,341 MT.

The outlook for U.S. potato exports in the current marketing year looks good, but with some definite question marks. The biggest question will be U.S. supply and price versus our competitors, particularly for frozen and dehydrated potatoes. The EU may once again have ample supply and relatively low prices, particularly for dehy. Australia had a better crop in 2009, which should free up more frozen product from New Zealand for export to Southeast Asia.