Consumers/Consumption

State of the US potato industry: Tariffs, transportation, soil health top issues

Spudman magazine published an extensive report on the state of the potato industry in the US at this time – the report was published online on Spudman’s website on this page. Below is a brief summary of some of the issues discussed in the report.

Tariffs were a major story for the global economy in 2018 and the potato industry did not escape their effects. China and Mexico — two of the largest importers of U.S. potatoes — levied tariffs on numerous goods, including spuds, in response to the Trump administration’s tariffs from its attempt to get more favorable trade deals for the U.S.

Frozen potato exports were down 6 percent during the first quarter of the 2018-19 season, dehydrated potatoes were down 7 percent and fresh spuds were down 12 percent, according to a Potatoes USA report.

At the height of the Atkins diet craze, “carb” became as infamous as other four-letter words. No food seemed to be as closely associated with carbs than potatoes. Consumption numbers dropped.

Nutritional studies and society’s growing quest to eat smarter, particularly among the younger generations, could be making an impact, however.

“For the first time (in 2017), we actually saw more tablestock potatoes sold in foodservice than in retail,” Potatoes USA CEO Blair Richardson said. . “It’s a furthering of the trend we’re seeing, and over time, I think we’re going to see that continue.”

J.R. Simplot’s Innate variety, or White Russet, was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which stated the GMO Innate was “as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts.” Despite being just as nutritious and possibly safer, a very small percentage of potatoes grown in the U.S. are GMO. It’s not the growers that have a hang-up on genetically altered spuds; they’re just waiting for public demand, which internationally, is even behind the U.S.

Despite trucking companies continuing to increase pay and bonuses, there is a huge driver shortage in the U.S. There is a need for more than 50,000 more truck drivers, the American Trucking Association’s Bob Costello told the Washington Post in 2018. Growers and shippers also have had to deal with adjusting to the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) law, which went into effect in 2017.

The Washington State Potato Commission is in the process of raising $3 million to create an endowed chair at Washington State University that will focus solely on soil health and potato cropping systems. “Soil health is going to be a really big focus for us, at least for the next 10 years if not longer,” Washington State Potato Commission Executive Director Chris Voigt said.

You can read the full report on the Spudman magazine website