What’s Up with the Decline in Potato Production?bianca
The USA is currently facing a potato shortage — and it’s affecting everyone from restaurants to stores to consumers.
From potato chips to French fries to mashed potatoes, potatoes can be found in several forms in countless stores and restaurants across the country. They’re a staple in many Americans’ diets, and Idaho potatoes support a multi-billion-dollar industry.
However, the potato industry hasn’t had an easy go lately. U.S. potato production was 7% lower in 2021 than the average production of the preceding five years, resulting in the USA potato shortage of 2022. This potato shortage has meant stores, restaurants, and individual consumers have struggled to find potatoes, much less reasonably priced ones.
Supply is down, and prices are up, but what’s behind the potato shortage of 2022?
Why is there a potato shortage?
Most years, there’s a slight shortage of Idaho potatoes and a sweet potato shortage in August. After all, there’s just one potato crop each year. Since potato harvest typically occurs in September and companies aim to sell all their potatoes before the harvest, the dwindling availability of potatoes isn’t uncommon. However, companies are running out of potatoes much earlier than usual, creating a nationwide shortage before the harvest of the new crop.
So, if potato acreage in Idaho increased by 15,000 between 2020 and 2021, what’s different about this year? Mother Nature.
Last summer’s hot temperatures meant poor growing conditions, lower yields, and lower crop quality. Between the heat, shortage of rain, and the cloud cover caused by the California and Colorado wildfires’ smoke, Idaho potatoes had a lot to overcome, so it’s hardly surprising that yields across Idaho were 25%-30% lower during the 2021 growing season.
On top of that, the 2022 crop harvest is slightly delayed thanks to cold and wet weather at the beginning of the growing season. This has led to a more noticeable gap between last year’s supply of potatoes and the arrival of this year’s supply, creating a potato shortage in the USA.
What does a potato shortage mean for the USA?
Idaho’s potato shortage has had significant effects across the country. Stores have had slimmer potato selections and rising prices, and people have spent hours searching for potatoes only to end up paying over double what they usually do.
Additionally, the season yielded fewer high-quality potatoes, meaning growers relied on processors more. Plus, processors raised their prices. Typically, a potato processor might charge $6 per 100 pounds of ungraded potatoes. However, prices are up to $13 or $14 for every 100 pounds.
Russet potatoes, an oblong potato with tough skin often used for baking and mashing, have increased in price by 35%. The Russet potato is also ideal for making French fries due to its high scratch and low moisture content. So, the potato shortage of 2022 has also led to the French fry shortage of 2022 because there aren’t enough Russet potatoes to go around.
In New York City, some wholesalers have initiated rations for shop owners and chefs to prevent hoarding. Restaurants with hashbrowns, potato salad, mashed potatoes, potato chips, or baked potatoes on their menus may need to reconsider their plans.
Some chefs have altered their menus, while others have drastically raised prices. Still, others have decided to keep prices as-is but take a loss in profits for the coming weeks.
When will the shortage end?
The good news is that the USA potato shortage won’t last forever. In fact, this year’s potato harvest is just starting, which means more potatoes will soon hit the market. In the next few weeks, production will slowly ramp up, increasing the supply of potatoes and helping end the shortage.
By the end of September or the beginning of October, this year’s crop of potatoes will be fully harvested and stored, offering significant relief to stores, suppliers, and restaurants across the country. Once the potato shortage of 2022 is over, French fry and potato chip makers can increase production, and restaurants can return to their regular menus.
Likewise, the high costs aren’t permanent. Potato prices will likely drop once this year’s potatoes are harvested and the nationwide supply of potatoes increases. However, they may remain elevated compared to previous years until at least 2023.
What can you do in the meantime?
As we wait for this year’s potato harvest to come in, restaurants, bars, schools, and other food service operators can be flexible. Instead of only using Idaho potatoes, businesses can branch out and begin incorporating different varieties of potatoes into their menus. For example, Magic Molly potatoes, Chipperbec potatoes, or Kennebec potatoes can help fill any potato-shaped gaps in the menu.
Similarly, being open to potatoes from other parts of the country can help businesses handle the potato shortage of 2022. Oregon, New York, Maine, Colorado, and Washington are home to several delicious potato varieties.
For restaurants, there’s always the option of raising prices or changing the menu to ensure the business remains as profitable as possible in the midst of the Idaho potato shortage.
Surviving the potato shortage of 2022
The potato shortage that the USA is currently facing hasn’t been easy for restaurants, stores, and other food service businesses. Not only do people need to search far and wide for potatoes, but they have to pay significantly more than usual once they find them.
If you haven’t been able to find quality potatoes, Riviera Produce can help! We source wholesale produce from local, trusted family farms, offer competitive pricing, and have late cut-off times, so you can rest easy and know you’re in good hands.