Wisconsin spuds had a shaky start to the COVID-19 pandemic, but high consumer demand has put potatoes in a good spot, says the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. Stephanie Hoff reports for WisBusiness.com.
America’s Dairyland ranks third in the nation for potato production, behind Idaho and Wahsington. And about 20 percent of the crop goes to McCain Foods in Plover to be made into frozen products, such as french fries and tater tots.
Before COVID-19, WPVGA growers agreed to terms on the 2020-2021 crop year potato contracts with McCain Foods. But because of the uncertainty that comes with a pandemic, McCain Foods had to cut the contract by 25 percent in volume. While there were no changes to the terms on price, “a 25 percent cut in volume is very significant,” Executive Director Tamas Houlihan said in a Regional Leadership Conference webinar.
That cut represents up to 1.5 hundredweight of potatoes or a 15 million dollar loss, he said.
After food service closures, there was a huge reduction in demand for potato products, said Houlihan. In addition, there was still half of a million hundredweight of potatoes from the crop before that had to be dealt with.
“Fortunately, Wisconsin has a very robust fresh market,” said Houlihan. About 45 percent of potatoes are bagged for the store, otherwise known as table stock potatoes. Some of those stored potatoes could be diverted to grocery stores.
“The retail demand increased tremendously with the advent of COVID,” he said. “Grocery store sales were through the roof, people were stocking up, and they weren’t buying the usual 5 and 10 pound bags. They were buying as much as they could.”