Potato prices surge as Idaho crop yields drop due to heatwave By Arsenio Toledo for Grocery
Idaho is experiencing a potato shortage, causing prices nationwide to surge. The state is the biggest producer of potato in the United States.
The U.S. produced over 389 million hundredweight (cwt) of potatoes in 2021, with Idaho producing nearly 129 million cwt, or a third of all potatoes grown in the country.
According to a report published by Biose State Public Radio (BSPR), a heatwave that affected the state last year has caused potato yields to drop.
“I’m not sure if you remember last June, but we had some just unbelievably hot temperatures here in Idaho. It did a number on our potato crop,” said Jamey Higham, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, in an interview with BSPR. “And so, our yields were significantly down last year.” (Related: National Black Farmers Association warns: Food shortage inevitable unless the government steps in.)
Last year’s potato crop cycle runs up through August. Before the 2022 harvest begins, American consumers will have to deal with the shortage due to last year’s diminished yields.
“There is not a gap. There are just less potatoes being shipped right now than there normally are this time of year because of the shorter supply that we started the season with,” said Higham.
Higham noted that the shortage in potato production from Idaho is causing prices all over the country to surge.
“As the fresh market goes, the grocery stores – your Albertsons, Walmart, WinCo, that stuff – it is not just Idaho that’s having high prices right now. It’s the other states as well,” he said.
Before the current food inflation crisis, potato was considered typically cheap. In Feb. 2019, the average price per pound of white potatoes was about $0.75. By April 2020, that average price increased by 13 percent or 10 cents to $0.85 per pound.
The price per pound of potatoes dipped slightly throughout much of last year and then started climbing steadily again in early 2022. As of June, the average price per pound of white potatoes had climbed to $0.89, or a 15.86 percent increase over June 2021 and a 19.9 percent increase from June 2020.
“Considering the amount of potatoes needed to produce a potato salad to serve six people still costs less than $2, potato prices are likely still within reach for most consumers, but we’re willing to bet people are still surprised by the total when they reach the checkout,” wrote Lauren Rothman for Tasting Table. “While an additional $0.28 per meal may not seem like a lot, as the prices of other grocery store staples also continue to increase the numbers do add up.”
Potato prices expected to remain high for the rest of the year
Higham warned that American consumers should prepare to deal with higher potato prices for a while longer – at least for the rest of the year – as the industry struggles to get back to normal levels of production.
“I don’t anticipate these prices staying high long term, and once the harvest gets underway, it’ll get back down into a better spot. But I do expect prices to be strong all year this year,” said Higham.
He added that next year’s harvest is about to start, but it will still take several weeks for the state to ramp up production. “It’ll get better every week, but by after Labor Day, I feel like we’ll be shipping a pretty good amount of potatoes.”
“It’s been a while since we’ve been this short and the prices of business strong,” he concluded. “But it’s one of those things. Mother Nature can be kind of nasty when she wants to be to farmers.”