Caribou County farmer Jason Stoddard is one of many Eastern Idaho seed potato growers who have been stuck with lots of spuds that will never be planted due to the COVID-19 crisis. Commercial potato farmers throughout the state have canceled seed orders, having had their contracts with processors scaled back due to lost food service demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus has disrupted the global potato market like no other single event before it, but there are some signs things settling at least a new normal, according to Cedric Porter, editor of World Potato Markets. World Potato Markets has just published its annual review of production, prices and trade. Potato News Today readers can enjoy a special purchase rate.
Caribou County farmer Jason Stoddard is one of many Eastern Idaho seed potato growers who have been stuck with lots of spuds that will never be planted due to the COVID-19 crisis. Commercial potato farmers throughout the state have canceled seed orders, having had their contracts with processors scaled back due to lost food service demand amid the pandemic. Industry officials estimate roughly 40 million pounds of Idaho seed potatoes have gone unsold or been returned to seed growers.
With prices and supply facing uncertainty due to lockdowns and high, panicked demand especially in the APAC region after the COVID-19 outbreak, it might be expected that potatoes would be able to benefit somewhat here – but in reality, there have been multiple factors hindering this opportunity, according to International Potato Center Asia Regional Director Samarendu Mohanty.
The world-wide coronavirus pandemic is impacting U.S. potato exports, as seen in the figures for March, according to Potatoes USA. In a press release issued today, the organization says U.S. exports of frozen potato products were off 12% in March 2020 compared to 2019. Exports of dehydrated potatoes were off 16%, and fresh were off 13% from the previous year.
“Improving potato varieties is our company’s core business,” says Robert Graveland, HZPC’s Research Director. “We noticed we have not yet used many genetic variants. There is still a lot of potential in this.” To use this potential, speed and control are crucial, says Robert. One way to speed up the process is to use gene-adaptation, for example, CRISPR-CAS. That can, for instance, create resistance or make a variety salt or heat tolerant. Some laws in Europe define gene-editing legally as GMO, though.
Gourmet potatoes favoured by top chefs and typically found only on the menus of high-end restaurants are to go on sale in Tesco this week to avoid them going to waste, according to news report by The Guardian in the UK. The move aims to ease a glut of fresh potatoes in the UK, with thousands of tonnes unused since the government ordered the closure of hospitality businesses on 23 March.
Potato processor McCain Foods (GB) Ltd is using ethylene and specifically the anti-sprouting system Restrain as its preferred replacement for the soon to be withdrawn CIPC, according to a press release issued by Restrain company. According to the release, McCain Foods GB, the UK business of the world’s largest producer of frozen potato products, has been using ethylene for a few years and is now recommending Restrain ethylene generators to its potato growers in the United Kingdom.
Many industries have faced changes due to COVID-19, including potato growers. With the Great Trentham Spudfest in Victoria, Australia cancelled earlier this month due to coronavirus restrictions, the region’s growers were left without one of their biggest opportunities of the year to sell their produce. But they, along with other growers around Ballarat, have all found ways to continue selling their potatoes to the public.
“Pivoting” is a term that has been thrown around by entrepreneurs as they try to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. But Jose Magsaysay Jr., founder and chairman emeritus of the food kiosk pioneer Potato Corner, pivoting is not always the solution for crumbling businesses. “You pivot depending on your resources. Look into yourself before you pivot. Am I a player now in this crisis? If I’m not and I don’t have the money to pivot, I will just conserve, stop what I’m doing, and spot trends,” he said during a webinar organized by the Philippine Franchise Association on Thursday.
Since lockdown measures were imposed in Britain in March of this year, uncertainty over the forward demand profile of potato markets has grown and grown, says Senior Analyst at AHDB, Alice Bailey. AHDB has pieced together its opinion on current and future supply and demand profiles to begin a wider discussion on the forward profile of potato markets. “We will constantly review and update as new information becomes available and circumstances change,” says Alice Bailey, author of the report.
In a province that boasts one of the largest potato production regions in Canada, the surplus of potatoes waiting in storage due to COVID-19 is a major issue. Officials say that surplus is now impacting future crops. Potatoes that remain in storage past September will have to be thrown out completely. The Potato Growers of Alberta projects the loss to producers at around $26 million, with another $5 to $6 million loss to seed growers alone.
The amount of potatoes in storage for Canada’s processing sector is 4.2 per cent above the three-year average as of May 1, 2020, according to the United Potato Growers of Canada’s (UPGC) latest update. The UPGC attributes the higher numbers to the COVID-19 pandemic which has “had a dramatic effect on french fry sales as sit-down portions of quick service and fast casual restaurants were closed.” The Potato Growers of Alberta estimates about $60 to $70 million worth of processing potatoes are still in storage.
Would you even recognize the version of yourself from February, 2020? Life changes fast. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has pushed most of us into an alternate universe of our lives that, only a couple months ago, would have been unthinkable. Case in point, Canadians might be asked to eat 200 million pounds of French fry potatoes that have already been harvested, but won’t be moving through the usual restaurant supply channels. If Canadians are asked to heroically eat our way out of this fry surplus, can we do it?
The reports of some farmers, ranchers or dairy operations dumping their farm commodities is not easy news to digest. But imagine how the farmer feels? When a producer makes the decision to destroy some of their crop, it is their absolute last resort and they do it with a heavy heart, farm industry leaders say.A lot of producers are donating their crops to food banks and other feeding programs right now but sometimes that isn’t an option due to logistical hurdles or economics, said Pat Kole, director of industry and government relations for the Idaho Potato Commission.
Processor Lamb Weston has returned part of the 2019 potato crop to Northwest farmers, according to a report by Capital Press. The company doesn’t have the ability to run all of the 2019 potatoes remaining in storage, said Dale Lathim, executive director of Potato Growers of Washington. About 30% of the potatoes still in growers’ storage has been returned to farmers, Lathim said. He said that’s about 4 million hundredweight of potatoes in Washington.
With COVID-19 closures in place all across the United States, and even the world, restaurant demand for potatoes has fallen. According to Frank Muir, CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, 60% of Idaho potatoes go to restaurants. “We’re trying to move crops in unprecedented times,” Muir said. “Prices were strong but they’ve been dipping. We can’t replace 60% of the food service loss.”
Stepping up to the plate: European Commission adopts market stabilisation measures in the potato sector to counter COVID-19 impact
The European Commission (EC) on May 4 announced the adoption of exceptional derogations from EU competition rules to allow certain types of cooperation in the potato sector, as well as for milk and milk products, and also live plants and flowers. This is part of a wider package to support the agri-food industry during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The potato industry needs more help than what the government has given so far, Kam Quarles believes. He spoke to The Packer’s Tom Karst on May 7. The shutdown of the foodservice sector related to shelter at home mandates has had sudden and severe consequences for growers, he said. The lack of movement at processors has backed up the supply chain and created damage to growers of seed, processed and fresh potatoes.
Potato farmers in the US plan to plant fewer spuds this year after demand for America’s most popular vegetable has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic. Early estimates show potato acres down about 10 percent, said Blair Richardson, CEO of Denver-based Potatoes USA, a potato marketing organization. But even with that reduction, industry leaders fear farmers will be unable to sell all their harvest come fall. More than $1 billion worth of potatoes is “backed up” in the processing system, Those are potatoes processors would have sold this spring, but couldn’t.