A big drop in US potato production is exacerbating a worldwide spud shortage, as disruptions to potato supply chains impact places as far-flung as North America, Asia, and Africa.
US potato production in 2021 was 7% below the five-year average. Severe drought, as seen with Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator application, resulted in the worst potato yields in years in several states including Washington, North Dakota, and No. 1 producer Idaho, where year-over-year yields fell 9%.
Despite the overall decline, however, five of the top 10 potato producing states had robust growing seasons, reaching record or near-record yields, including Maine and Michigan. The US is among the world’s top 5 potato producing and exporting countries.
The US has seen a steady decrease in the number of acres of potatoes harvested, offsetting in many cases the positive effect of increased yields. One state losing potato acreage at a fast clip is California, due to water shortages in the Klamath Basin, the state’s main potato growing region. As drought worsened this summer, authorities cut off water to irrigation systems to sustain lake water levels for several species of endangered fish. California’s potato production plunged 29% in the past two years, while acres harvested declined by 31%.
Meanwhile, potato trade flows have been disrupted worldwide. Disastrous flooding in Vancouver, British Columbia, in late fall caused a major cargo backup for one of North America’s largest ports, causing fast-food restaurants in Japan, the largest export market for US potatoes, to run short of french fries. Restaurants in East Africa are facing similar shortages due to a poor crop in South Africa brought on by excessive rainfall.
Exports from Canada also have been curtailed after a potato wart outbreak prompted an export ban from Prince Edward Island, Canada’s largest producing province. With import flows interrupted, US purchasers, especially in the Northeast, have needed to find alternative product, most likely from the domestic US crop.
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