Multiple sectors of agriculture have been hit hard with the effects of COVID-19, and potato production is no exception.
According to Kelly Turner, executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, some sectors of potato growers out west are hurting, and they’re hurting bad.
“They produce potatoes that are meant to go into restaurant markets—like dehydrated potatoes and potatoes that are used for French fries,” she said. “They’ve almost come to a standstill. The packing houses are completely full. The product’s not moving, and here these growers sit with millions of dollars’ worth of potatoes that they don’t have a buyer for.”
Here in Michigan, that outlook is a little less bleak. Roughly 70 percent of the state’s potatoes go into chip production. The remaining 30 percent are a mix of fresh potatoes and seed potatoes.
“The fresh potato market in Michigan and the chip potato market was really strong, especially when the pandemic first started,” said Turner. “[When] we saw the stay-at-home order come through the governor’s office, people were really trying to stock up.”
In order to meet that demand, Turner said a lot of producers were working around the clock to keep up.
“That has backed off a little bit, but they’re still up from where they were a year ago as far as output—still trying to keep up with the demand that’s still out there,” she told MAT.
When the pandemic began, pretzel and chip demand increased nearly 200 percent, according to analysis from ResearchAndMarkets.com. Turner said now consumers and parents are making sandwiches at home and buying chips on the side.
“The demand has continued to stay strong,” she said. “Prices are still strong for the products that we have—they’re still in good shape.”
Potatoes that are harvested in the fall can be kept in storage until June or early July. Turner said some Michigan processors will run out sometime in June, which is normal. Harvest will soon be underway in Florida and that product will be shipped to Michigan processors. When harvest begins in August, processors will be using Michigan potatoes again.