National potato processing was up significantly through Feb. 1, but stocks also remain higher than last year due to a larger 2011 crop size, according to a new USDA report.
In the top nine potato states, where processors have used a combined 106 million cwt, processing is up 15 percent from last year, the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated. Dehydrated use accounted for 20.9 million cwt of total processing, up 53 percent from last year. In Idaho and Malheur County, Ore., processors increased usage by 28 percent, having processed 41.8 million cwt.
Stocks were up 4 percent from last year in the top 13 potato states, with a combined 187 million cwt in storage. In Idaho, stocks were up 8 percent from last year at 67.5 million cwt.
Potato disappearance also increased, up 18 percent from last year in Idaho and up 9 percent nationally.
"One of the things I always look at, last year (in Idaho) we had 55 percent of our crop still available (through Feb. 1). This year we have 53 percent," said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. "Overall, we're right on track to finish this year right where we want to be in terms of having enough product to serve our customers' needs but not a lot of excess."
Muir said processors have also significantly increased acres contracted for Idaho's 2012 crop.
"We are seeing demand increase on the processing side, which is good news for everybody," Muir said.
Nationally, however, the report provides evidence that the 2011 crop has faced some storage problems. Potato shrinkage and loss, at 19.3 million cwt, has increased by 16 percent.
Industry officials in Maine, for example, have reported substantial losses to storage rot. Muir hasn't heard of similar problems in Idaho. Neither has Travis Blacker, president of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association.
"I haven't heard any issues, which tells me I think the quality is pretty good," Blacker said.
SOURCE: John O'Connell, Capital Press