Winter Market for U.S. Potatoes Remains Strong

Published online: Feb 20, 2020 Articles Jim Offner
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Source: The Packer

Rough weather during the U.S. potato harvest last fall continues to shake up the markets well into 2020, marketers say.

“Overall, the market is elevated due to several weather-related issues across the country during fall harvest,” said Rachel Atkinson-Leach, category and brand manager for Russet Potato Exchange Inc. in Bancroft, Wis.

Recent prices seemed to support that contention, with year-on-year prices having jumped higher across the category.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of Feb. 11, 50-pound cartons of russet norkotahs out of Central Wisconsin were $20-21 for sizes 40-70; $17-18, 80; $13-15, 90; and $12-14, 100.

That market bump could reach into the spring, Atkinson-Leach said.

“We believe the market has plateaued until the next quality event, which should happen in late May and depends on how well Idaho’s storage crop packs out,” she said. 

In general, she said, grower-shippers are maintaining inventories “at a nice pace,” with the exception of Idaho, which was “pulling more” in early February than it was a year earlier at the same time. 

“Early indicators are, Idaho might be in trouble with their early frost they experienced in the fall; otherwise, pricing will remain strong on 10-ounce and above, due to the short crop and smaller sizing,” Atkinson-Leach said.

Strong markets likely will last a while, said Eric Beck, marketing director at Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC.

“The remaining stocks on hand for the storage crop continue to be the main driver of the market,” he said. 

“With the combination of size and quality being the primary variables for production costs, we speculate stronger pricing when compared to the five-year historical averages to meet the U.S. potato demand. Larger profile russet potatoes will be the wild card and they will trend prices in an upward fashion through the remainder of the 2019 russet storage crop.”

Suppliers will have to be judicious in handling their inventories, after a busy Thanksgiving-Christmas season, Beck said.

“Storage utilization will need to be conservative to maintain availability until the 2020 crop,” he said.