Nation’s potato acreage declines by 3 percent

By DAVE WILKINS Capital Press Staff Writer


U.S. farmers reduced fall potato acreage by 3 percent this year amid weak market conditions and irrigation shortages in some parts of the West.

Nationwide, farmers planted just slightly more than 1 million acres of spuds for fall harvest, according to estimates released last week by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

While a few states increased their spud plantings this year, there were declines across the Pacific Northwest, where major processors made significant cutbacks in contracted acreage.

Idaho farmers planted an estimated 360,000 acres this year, down 4 percent from a year ago.

Washington growers planted an estimated 165,000 acres of fall potatoes, down 3 percent from 2002. Plantings in Oregon dropped to an estimated 43,000 acres, down 14 percent from last year.

Shortages of irrigation water prompted voluntary cutbacks in acreage in Oregon and Colorado. Plantings in Colorado were down an estimated 7 percent.

California’s fall potato plantings, at 8,000 acres, were down 10 percent from 2002.

The government acreage estimates were lower than some industry analysts had predicted, sources said.

Most observers were expecting U.S. fall potato acreage to be down only about 1 to 2 percent, and some expected it to be virtually unchanged from 2002.

“I’m relieved there was a cut because I really didn’t expect one,” said Jim Chapman, an industry consultant in American Falls, Idaho. “I thought (acreage) would stay flat.”

Even with a 3 percent decline in potato acreage nationally, there’s not much for growers to be encouraged about, Chapman said.

The reduction won’t be enough to create shortages and boost prices, he said. Growers will probably be lucky if they just recover all their costs this year.

“It isn’t going to be a disaster like the year 2000, but it’s going to be a get-by year,” Chapman said.

“We needed to cut acres, but I see a downtrend in just about every aspect of the potato markets,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve kept ahead of it with the acreage reduction.”

It’s not a good sign that spud yields are moving up while consumption of potatoes is trending down, Chapman said.

“If the trend yield were down or flat and consumption was flat it would be a decent year,” he said.

Fresh potato consumption in the United States has been trending down for about four years and may have bottomed out, Chapman said.

The decline in frozen potato products is more worrisome, he said.

Foodservice french fry sales in the United States have dropped significantly since 2000 and were down another 2 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Most of this year’s decline in potato acreage came in the West.

Plantings were down an average of 5 percent in all Western states, but up about 1 percent in the Midwest and East.

Farmers in Maine planted 66,000 acres of fall potatoes, an increase of 3 percent. Nebraska acreage was up 7 percent and Michigan plantingS were up 1 percent.


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