Across Regions

Global french fry shortage looming, says market analyst

The old adage that for a farmer to have a good year, another farmer as to have a failure seems to come true for the U.S. potato market.

“There are a lot of issues in the global potato market that will impact the U.S.,” Bruce Huffaker told participants during the University of Idaho Ag Outlook. He heads the North American Potato Market News, Inc.

While the Pacific Northwest, including Idaho, had a great crop; the rest of the U.S., Canada and European Union suffered widespread crop losses and poor quality.

Europe production losses are estimated at 20 percent including a 32 percent drop in Belgium, one of the world’s leading french fry producers. Not only is the crop smaller but so are the tubers with almost half having diameters of less than two inches. To complicate matters, glassy tubers are also a problem in Belgium.

Fry exports from Europe have become a huge part of the global market growing from under 500 million pounds in 2003 to 3.661 million pounds for the marketing year ending June 30, 2018. But given the production losses, those exports could be down 360 million lbs. next year.

At the same time, demand is projected to increase 360 million pounds. That could create a shortfall of 720 million pounds in the coming year.

“We don’t have enough capacity for North America to make the french fries the world needs,” Huffaker said.

Although processors have the opportunity to make money this winter, Huffaker does not expect to see higher prices for growers unless the supply is smaller than forecast. He thinks it will take 18 months to straighten out the potato processing supply chains — provided that Europe can harvest a normal crop in 2019.

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