By Clint Thompson
Demand for potatoes is high, while supply remains low. That could be good news for Florida producers hoping to take advantage this spring, said John Toaspern, chief marketing officer for Potatoes USA.
“(Florida’s) just coming into the market right now. They’re coming into a strong market for table-stock potatoes. Reds and other potatoes coming out of there are tight, and prices are in a good situation. From that perspective, they’re in a very good situation,” Toaspern said. “The one anomaly this year has been that the (potato) chip manufacturers have not been demanding as big of supplies as they did last year. During the pandemic there was a lot of snacking going on. (Florida) has a lot of chip growers down there and they did see their contract volumes go down.
“That’s been a bit of frustration, but hopefully they’ve been able to take advantage of the table-stock opportunity.”
Florida is in the top 15 in potato production in the country, though it is the largest producer at this time of the year, Toaspern said. Areas like California and other northern states hope to join Florida in capitalizing on an industry that is trending in growers’ favor, even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
“If you go before (the pandemic) I think what we had been seeing is a trending of a growing market for potatoes. The food service sector has really been strong on demand. Processing usage for frozen fries for potato chips have been growing over the years. Table-stock was not quite as strong, but now the pandemic has helped that area recover,” Toaspern said. “We’re definitely in a trend of increasing demand.
“The production for potatoes (this year) was off due to the heat and other weather issues up in the Pacific Northwest. That has created a situation with relatively tight supply. From the demand side, exports have been very strong. Retail sales have cooled off slightly from 2020 but are still well above the pre-pandemic levels. Food service is still recovering. It’s not back to what it was in 2019 but it certainly has recovered quite well, in particularly for processed products and frozen fries and dehydrated potatoes.
“The demand is certainly greater than supply this year. The growers are in a good position from that perspective for sure.”